Neighborhoods can affect your health in clear ways. For example, there are many obvious risks to living in a neighborhood with high levels of crime, or pollutants from nearby industries. Poor water quality in low-income communities is another issue discussed frequently in recent headlines. 
But other issues may not be as obvious. Have you ever encountered an uneven sidewalk in your neighborhood, or had to take a long walk to reach public transportation? These may not seem like as big of a deal, but consider the challenge they would present to an older adult or person with disabilities. Or, have you ever been confused by the local bus routes? Consider how difficult it would be for someone with dementia to figure it out. 
To improve health outcomes for older adults, many communities have started movements to make neighborhoods and the people in them more age- and dementia-friendly. These efforts can be beneficial to the wellbeing of not only older adults, but also those who care for them, regardless of age. Age-friendly communities can provide older adults with the means to age in place with the support of family and friend caregivers—contributing to a happier, healthier community for all. 

Is your community age-friendly? 

  • Are the sidewalks even so that older adults can safely walk to the grocery store without fear of falling? 
  • Are there city-wide transportation options available? Are bus stops or train stations frequent and easy to walk to? 
  • Will the cashiers at stores have some knowledge of how to communicate with older adults who are experiencing memory loss?  
  • Is there somewhere older adults can go during the day for activities and socialization, especially if they are unable to stay at home alone all day?
  • Are there alternate housing options nearby, such as assisted living facilities or retirement communities?  

How can caregivers work to improve communities? 

Caregivers have the right to seek answers to their questions and ensure that city officials, local agencies, businesses and other key players are continuously informed about the needs of older adults. Check with your local Area Agency on Aging, city office on aging or local senior center see if there are any opportunities in your community to provide input on improvements. Here are some simple examples of what communities are doing to become more age-friendly: 
  • Installing benches throughout the city and providing folding chairs to local businesses so that older adults can sit if they need a break.  
  • Organizing walking groups, cooking classes or other engaging activities targeted to older adults to promote physical activity and healthy eating. 
  • Linking with local high schools to develop community service projects and other intergenerational programs with older adults.  
  • Improving handicap and transportation accessibility to important community centers and businesses  

What are some resources to learn more? 

There are several resources that you can turn to get ideas on what communities are doing to create an age-friendly environment: 
The World Health Organization (WHO) is helping communities become more age-friendly and promoting aging in place by recognizing the importance of SDHs. WHO provides guidance to communities to help assess their outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social opportunities, volunteering/employment, communications and support/health services.  
The AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities encourages states, cities and towns to implement environmental, economic and social changes to improve the health and well-being of older adults. Their website provides examples of what communities across the country are doing to create age-friendly environments.  
Dementia Friends USA provides a free online tutorial on how to recognize the signs of dementia, and simple actions to take in creating a dementia friendly community where the needs of those with dementia are understood and supported. 

Written by Branka Primetica, MSW, and Julie Hayes, MS, Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging