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As America Ages, Communities Begin to Adapt

Leaders from across the state gather in Lexington to explore solutions for making neighborhoods more age-friendly so older Kentuckians can remain in their homes. (Greg Stotelmyer)
Leaders from across the state gather in Lexington to explore solutions for making neighborhoods more age-friendly so older Kentuckians can remain in their homes. (Greg Stotelmyer)
November 10, 2016

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- People are living longer, and by 2030 it's projected that one in five Americans will be 65 or older.

One expert on aging, Jean Setzfand, senior vice president for programs at AARP, said infrastructure that allows residents to “age in place” in their neighborhoods is lagging in most communities. That infrastructure includes things like affordable and accessible housing, multiple modes of transportation, and community services.

At a solutions forum in Lexington on Wednesday, Setzfand said more than 80 percent of people 45 and older say they want to remain in the community where they now live.

"They want to be closer to their friends. They want to be close to their family. They want to be close to the community services they're familiar with - doctors, the dry cleaner,” Setzfand said. "It's the environment that they know and are familiar with, and that's where they want to be."

She said communities are built for younger, able-bodied residents, so to create livable age-friendly communities, neighborhoods have to mold a supportive infrastructure together with the social environment.

In Kentucky's second largest city, leaders are working to update the city's comprehensive plan. Lexington's Director of Aging and Disability Services, Kristy Stambaugh, said one proposal is to incentivise builders so when they build a new subdivision, some homes are built for residents to remain there well into their twilight years.

"We need housing that is maybe single-story, that's barrier-free entrances, that the doorways are wider, so that we can get mobility devices through them,” Stambaugh said.

Since AARP made age-friendly communities a focus ten years ago, there has been a groundswell of interest, according to Setzfand.

"Local leaders, in particular, are opening their eyes to the aging demographic,” she said. “People are proactively going out and trying to change their communities to think about the longer lifespan in which people exist in that community."

In 2010, more than 13 percent of Kentucky's population was age 65 or older. It's estimated that by 2030, one in four Kentuckians will be in that demographic. So the time for planning solutions is now.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY