An aging population is susceptible to an increased risk of chronic disease and disability: hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, blindness and visual impairment, mental health disorders, arthritis and diabetes, which can require life-long treatment or support. Chronic illness and disability impose high ongoing costs on individuals, families, and societies. Poor health reduces older adult’s capacity to actively participate in and contributes to their families, thus increasing their isolation and dependence. Individuals and families may have to sell their assets in order to purchase medicines, which thus increases their vulnerability. Family members may need to take time off from work to look after an older family relative who has a disability. Governments need to cope with increased demands for health services and increased costs to their health service providers for long-term care. And yet, much of this financial anxiety is avoidable because many chronic illnesses are preventable when healthy and active aging is promoted, especially among people earlier in life.
An age-friendly community is important for seniors’ health because it allows seniors to stay active and connected to others, while also “aging in place.” Age-friendly communities reduce travel barriers, allowing seniors to visit friends, exercise, and volunteer, all of which are good for mental and physical health as they reduce depression and heart disease, and increase life expectancy. Age-friendly communities have a physical infrastructure that is less likely to cause falls, a major cause of disability among seniors.
Local governments have many of the tools necessary to make age-friendly communities a reality. They can consider the needs of seniors, and involve them in planning initiatives, programs, and events. Municipal action to create age-friendly communities attracts seniors and families with children to move to and stay in these communities, allowing for healthy lifelong development for all ages and for healthy communities overall.