Livable communities are the result of a recent concept as cities and towns discuss improvements needed to become more attractive for residents of all ages.
For our senior loved ones, being a part of a livable community might mean the difference between being able to age in place at home on their own or needing the services of a senior living facility.
Haven’t yet heard about livable communities? Well, according to AARP, a livable community is one with affordable housing, supportive features and services, and adequate mobility options to facilitate independence and engagement for residents.
We would all want to live in that type of environment!
It is as important for our senior loved ones to live in neighborhoods that are healthy for them as it is that their home will safely accommodate their aging in place.
Is your senior’s neighborhood ready for aging adults?
What Makes a Neighborhood Good for Aging?
Neighborhoods have both good and bad traits, which can not only affect happiness but also health and well-being.
A livable neighborhood for seniors would have:
- Diverse housing options that met the needs of everyone no matter their abilities or finances. These homes would have universal design that can accommodate individuals as their needs change.
- Public transportation that is available, accessible no matter the disability and travels to the locations a senior needs, such as doctor’s office, hospital, grocery, post office, shopping, beauty shop/barber and other areas needed.
- Amenable road and sidewalk design as well as controlling the traffic speed for the safety of pedestrians. Mobility would not be weakened for those who chose to walk or to gain access to transportation.
- Nearby development, including retail outlets, supermarkets, healthcare and entertainment.
- Parks and recreational areas accessible to all individuals. Do you know that people who live in walkable communities are two times more likely to get adequate physical activity each day?
- Police and first responders present for patrolling and emergency needs.
- Opportunities for socialization and volunteerism so that seniors can stay engaged and feel a sense of purpose
How Is a “Bad” Neighborhood Worse for Aging?
It is pretty easy to see why seniors would enjoy a livable city. But what about when the city is not so livable? What risks might befall our seniors?
A recent study suggests that living in a bad neighborhood can adversely affect health and accelerate aging.
When people lived in neighborhoods with a lot of noise, crime and vandalism, the residents of that neighborhood showed a biological versus chronological age difference of 12 additional years. In other words, the residents exhibited traits of being older than their actual age.
Researchers looked at changes at the cellular level and determined that indeed the aging process could be influenced by adverse conditions.
This study found a correlation, not a cause and effect relationship, but it is important to be aware of how much impact your environment can play on your aging health.
Putting Seniors in Harm’s Way
Some neighborhoods could put seniors in the path of things that could harm their physical health. Dust, mold, pests, and lead paint could harm seniors as they walked and lived in the area.
If there are no supermarkets to purchase healthy, fresh foods, seniors may be forced to shop in convenience stores which carry primarily processed foods.
In areas where convenience stores or bodegas are the only food options, the risk for obesity is heightened according to research.
Research also shows older adults living in poor neighborhoods are ‘significantly more likely’ to suffer mobility and cognitive problems.
If the area is one that gives your senior a great deal of stress for whatever reason – noise, neighbors, crime, it can have a negative impact on their mental health, depression and stress.
Senior Friendly Neighborhoods
The World Health Organization defines an “age-friendly” community as one that optimizes opportunities for health, participation and security as people age, and adapts its structures and services to be accessible to, and inclusive of, older individuals with varying needs and capacities.
A senior friendly community should support the 5 psycho-social development tasks important for aging? The 5 C’s are continuity, compensation, connection, contribution, and challenge.
Can a senior participate in the community and are they respected for their contribution? Is there support for them as they age despite their needs?
Seniors and their family caregivers want to have their home located in an area that is safe for them to go outside and do whatever they choose whether for recreation, physical activity or instrumental activities of living.
Seniors should be safe not just from the threat of crime or violence but also safe from the threat of speeding traffic, air or water pollution, unsafe or missing sidewalks and the absence of healthy food access or healthcare.
Meeting Varied Needs
Each senior and their family caregivers might want something different.
- Some may want a large yard that would allow opportunities for gardening, nature walks and wildlife viewing.
- Other seniors may want to be within walking distance of the various amenities of a large city.
- Many older adults no longer want to worry about the upkeep a property requires either maintenance for the yard or the home.
More seniors than you might think would prefer to live in a congregate living facility or assisted living facility that will give them access to socialization, healthy food, medical attention and transportation without any of the worry of ownership.
Health Benefits of a Good Neighborhood
Besides the aforementioned health benefits, such as access to physical and social activity in a livable community, new research suggests that a good neighborhood can have heart health benefits as well.
Researchers from the University of Michigan found that people who live in a neighborhood with close community ties are nearly 70% less likely to have a heart attack. Naturally this is a correlation study, but having a cohesive community where everyone supports and befriends each other can be a factor that improves heart health.
If your senior lives in a good neighborhood that is supportive of their aging needs, they will likely not have to move to another location as long as they remain independent. They can become part of a cohesive network of community living.
Benefits Worth Relocation
When the air is clean, the grass is green and the food is fresh your senior loved one can live a lifestyle that reduces the risk for heart disease, depression, immobility, obesity and cancer.
Being part of a good neighborhood and livable community is worth relocation if that is what is needed.
There are great options with more cities making a concerted effort initiating programs to become senior-friendly communities.
You might want to check out your own city to see if they are committed to being senior-friendly.