Aging with Intention—Planning for the Third Chapter

Although it has been said that having a plan for one’s life is useful, I suspect that most of us did not have such a roadmap growing up. We simply followed the expectations of our families, culture, and community, either spoken or unspoken. Like following a family recipe, we can become extensions of our parents by following similar careers, or maybe, we endeavored to enhance our family’s reputation by striving to become the “best” at some skill or activity. If we were encouraged to live a life that matters, we may have been led to intentional activism, perhaps volunteering with a church, school, library, or organization concerned with a social justice issue. Does this sound like you? Have you created your own roadmap?

Once 50 or older, we are likely thinking about and preparing for our third chapter and planning for the future. Maybe, the old plan no longer works. Not only is that true for us, but for the cities where we live as well. Communities are increasingly planning for their own third chapter as they acknowledge and prepare for an aging population.

Statistics tell us that there are approximately 45 million Americans who are age 65 or older. By 2030, that number will reach 73 million Americans. At that point, fully one in five Americans will be older than 65. And by 2034, the United States will, for the first time, be a country comprised of more older adults than children. Consequentially, more and more communities are becoming intentionally age-friendly.

So, what does age-friendly mean?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an age-friendly city is one that promotes active aging, recognizes the great diversity among older persons, and respects their decisions and lifestyle choices. It also ensures that policies, services, and structures related to the physical and social environment are designed to support and enable older people to age actively, to live in security, enjoy good health, and participate fully in their communities.

The AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities was established in April 2012 as an independent affiliate of the WHO Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. Many of the towns, cities, counties, and states enrolled in the network use the Eight Domains of Livability framework to evaluate the availability and quality of features that will help communities become more livable not only for older residents, but for those of all ages. These include outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, work and civic engagement, communications and information, and community health services.

To date, there are 749 age-friendly communities that are committed to being great places to live of which Washington State has five: Puyallup, Seattle, Tacoma, Renton, and White Salmon.

As Massachusetts Lt. Governor Kimberley Driscoll says, “Great cities do not happen by accident. They take careful planning, public input, and meaningful action.” By learning more about the age-friendly communities near us, we can find new opportunities to make a difference in our third chapter.

Linda Henry writes regularly on topics related to aging, health care, and communication, and is the co-author of several books, including Transformational Eldercare from the Inside Out: Strengths-Based Strategies for Caring. She conducts workshops nationally on aging and creating caring work environments. Her volunteer emphasis is age-friendly communities.

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