Abstract: Local Government Innovation Creating Aging-Friendly Communities: Survey Results (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

41P Local Government Innovation Creating Aging-Friendly Communities: Survey Results

Friday, January 15, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Amanda Lehning, MSW , University of California, Berkeley, PhD Candidate, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose: Current population projections estimate that one in five Americans will be 65 or older by the year 2030. Gerontologists have been describing the potential benefits of aging in place so as to enhance an older adult's ability to remain independent and enjoy a high quality of life for several decades, as well as the potential benefits of adapting the environment (e.g., Lawton & Nahemow, 1973). It remains unclear, however, whether communities are responding to this expected growth in their older population by adopting and implementing changes aimed at improving the health and well-being of their older residents. An aging-friendly community has been defined as one in which older adults are valued, involved in community life, and receive necessary supports to accommodate their needs. This study examines local government efforts to make communities more aging-friendly in cities and counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. The purpose of the study is to provide an assessment of the aging-friendly policies, programs, and changes in infrastructure adopted by local governments.

Methods: In the first phase of this mixed methods study, online surveys were sent to city planners/directors of community development, county directors of aging services, employees of county transportation authorities, and employees of public transit providers. The surveys asked questions about 22 policies and programs that fall within five broad components of an aging-friendly community: community design (e.g., incentives for mixed-use neighborhoods), housing (e.g., home modification assistance), transportation (e.g., senior vans), health and supportive services (e.g., preventive health programs, and opportunities for community involvement (e.g., volunteer programs).

Results: More than 50% of those sampled responded to the survey. The most common policies and programs reported by city planners include improvements in the walkability of the city by such measures as sidewalk repair, traffic calming, and the construction of new pedestrian pathways. Fewer cities, however, offer incentives to developers to build senior housing or incorporate accessible housing features. County aging services directors report that they provide supportive services such as legal assistance, home delivered meals, and senior centers, but few offer programs designed to increase older resident community engagement. The majority of public transit providers have implemented measures to increase the accessibility of buses and trains, including driver sensitivity training, operating low-floor buses, and offering older adults discounted fares at all times. Some cities and counties also assist with senior mobility through the provision of shuttle services and infrastructure changes to improve older driver safety.

Implications: It appears that many cities and counties in the Bay Area are preparing for the aging of their populations by adopting and implementing policies and programs that may help older adults age in place in their homes and communities. There is a great deal of variation, however, among these local governments. These survey results will be explored in greater depth in the second phase of this mixed methods study, which will involve qualitative interviews with survey respondents to explore the factors influencing their decision to adopt these policies and programs.