Our planet will soon have more adults over age 65 than children under the age of 5—an unprecedented demographic shift. Gains in human longevity mean that, on average, we experience an extra 30 years of life compared to someone born in 1900. This longevity bonus creates both exciting opportunities and significant challenges, for individuals and the Commonwealth in general.
Successfully addressing both the opportunities and challenges of aging requires a shift in how we think about aging and how our communities are structured and function. The World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities was launched in 2006 to help this effort. Across the U.S., many communities have embraced the Age-Friendly approach, covering more than 41 million residents (Turner and Morken, 2016). As of March 2017, 72 of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts are taking steps to become more age-friendly. A related, but the unique initiative is the Dementia Friendly America (DFA) effort launched in 2015.
These two strategies share fundamental objectives, such as hearing directly from older adults about what they want and need, and creating healthy, enabling environments to help older adults to remain independent and in the community as long as possible. The leadership and activities of both efforts can be mutually supportive and overlapping.
Yet as the number of older adults has risen, so too have rates of various age-related illnesses and disability, which strain healthcare systems, caregivers, and, of course, the older adults themselves.