Thoughts on an aging-in-communities approach

Thoughts on an aging-in-communities approach

Since 1900, we have added more longevity to our species than all of previous civilization. Birthrates in our country are decreasing. This demographic shift is bringing about significant challenges for the workplace, for our healthcare system and for society as a whole. If we just do more of what we have been doing for the past fifty years, we will not be able to effectively address these challenges.

Our communities are not usually organized to support all of us at the different stages of our lives. Someone with a walker might want to go to the park, but there isn’t a safely accessible space there for them to walk or bathrooms they can use should they need to. Younger people often need places to congregate safely and to be heard. An older person might want to participate in a local arts program, but it isn’t set up for someone with diminished vision or hearing. Indeed, our older people have been invisible in our communities because of the unconscious bias of ageism. Our older neighbors have been othered.

The term ‘aging-in-communities’ refers, in part, to a conscious, coordinated, community-wide effort to respectfully address the evolving needs and interests of all of us.  Aging-in-communities is inclusive of the term aging-in-place, which focuses on dwelling space. It uses a broader, community-wide lens to identify not just a set of plans, programs, procedures, and services but also an inclusive awareness and approach that facilitates livability for everyone. Aging-in-communities is a key component of efforts to address the needs and interests of residents of all ages throughout our lifespans and healthspans. 

Our approach to aging has been classically “deficit-oriented”—focused on what olders could no longer do, rather than working side-by-side with us to create programs that capitalize on what we can offer. An aging-in-communities approach involves older people as key actors in equitably addressing the unfolding realities of our changing population. This can help all of us to be heard, an important element for older people and younger people to feel valued and included in the life of our communities.  Aging-in-communities planning is woven into the social fabric of the city as well as the physical design. All people desire to participate in social life, to actively contribute to society and to continue learning throughout our lives.


An essential aspect of aging-In-communities is highlighting, explaining and diminishing the unconscious bias of ageism - both systemic ageism and internalized ageism. Prejudice against people based on their age, whether older or younger, is costly for all of us.


An aging-in-communities approach highlights the Platinum Rule, and in doing so promotes empathy in this time of equity. Most everyone knows the Golden Rule – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. The Platinum Rule states ‘do unto others as they would have you do unto them’. This gives power to those who have been othered. With the Platinum Rule, the standards of conduct are now in the hands of those others. This offers us the possibility of walking in their shoes, which offers the possibility of empathy.


An aging-in-communities approach can assist our continuing efforts to co-create a livable community for everyone.

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