Barriers to Aging in Community

Seniors in Delaware transportation and mobility support

The AARP Public Policy Institute defines a “livable community” as one “that has affordable and appropriate housing, supportive community features and services, and adequate mobility options, which together facilitate personal independence and the engagement of residents in civic and social life.” In order to age in place, a community must be livable.

The necessary components to achieve this include housing, transportation and mobility, efficient land use, cooperation and communication among community stakeholders, public participation in the planning process, and leadership. Unfortunately, there are several barriers to each of these components.

Barriers to housing include lack of

  • Multigenerational planning and intergenerational planning. Communities need to discourage continued development of residential developments that are strictly designed for a single market segment like “starter homes” for first-time buyers, “move-up homes” for growing families, and “retirement communities” for those older than 55
  • Different and affordable housing options such as accessory dwelling units, cohousing, villages, cottage-style homes, and community partnerships
  • Homes that incorporate universal design features that are accommodate people of all ages and abilities
  • Housing options that consider the need for homes that can accommodate people across their lifespan, provide for Visitability and Universal Design, and can support the growing trend toward multi-generational households

Barriers to transportation and mobility

  • Transportation facilities that are auto-centric and lack multi-modal options for non-driving adults or non-car households
  • Public transportation services that are limited, lack connectivity, or are nonexistent—particularly in suburban and rural areas
  • Poorly maintained sidewalks, biking paths, and pedestrian facilities
  • Lack of Complete Streets that specifically accommodate the needs and/or provide a range of transportation options that safely accommodate older adults
  • Lack of compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines

Barriers to efficient land use

  • Sprawling development patterns that are auto-dependent, limited to single-uses, and lack connectivity to homes and community destinations
  • Strict separation of residential, recreational, and commercial spaces, which makes it difficult to access necessary amenities and services of daily living, such as grocery stores
  • Lack of community design features, policies that support community livability, or recreation programming

Barriers to cooperation and communication

  • Lack of affordable access and connectivity to high-speed internet services
  • Limited interagency communication
  • Lack of cooperation among neighboring communities
  • NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) attitudes that impede livable community efforts

Barriers to public engagement

  • Planning processes that exclude older adults or their caregivers
  • Lack of sufficient planning, policy adjustments, and coordinated approaches to the provision of supportive services that make it possible and cost effective for older adults to age in community
  • Disregard for smart growth planning approaches that account for expected population shifts

Barriers to leadership

  • Lack of “political will” can thwart efforts to make communities more livable

Understanding these barriers helps point toward solutions. Older adults are capable, valuable life experience, and can provide meaningful contributions through volunteer opportunities. Many local governments recruit and actively engage older adults on boards, commissions, committees and in planning processes to make communities more livable and age friendly, as advocated by many organizations such as AARP.


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