The world population is aging at a rapid rate. Some estimates predict that by 2050, 1 in 4 people will be older than 65 living in cities with limited options and unmet needs. Many cities and towns are not prepared for the needs of the elderly. Aging is happening, and longevity brings challenges. While communities must address aging, we, as individuals, must plan for it as well.
It is apparent that there is a serious discrepancy between the elderly's needs and how they are being met in our society. Unfortunately, our cities are wildly inadequate for sustaining the quality of life of older adults. Hence, many older people must deal with countless challenges of urban aging daily.
We will all grow old at some point. Thus, this is a battle for all of us. The importance of observing and figuring out how to improve the lives of the elderly should be a collective effort. In light of this, let's look at the many challenges of urban aging in closer detail.
Improving the lives of the elderly means improving the lives of all of us.
People who are experiencing mobility loss due to old age are especially disadvantaged in cities. The most significant issues related to urban aging are adapting the infrastructure and housing to provide a functional and dignified life. However, as little as 4% of the housing units in the U.S. are even ‘minimally accessible.’ And if you consider that minimal accessibility merely means that a wheelchair can get through the front door, the issue poses itself in an entirely new light.
Housing Accessibility Requires New Building Standards
Accessibility is a big problem that must be tackled if we want to improve the social and physical well-being of the elderly. Adapting building standards in line with the accessibility needs of the elderly is the first task that awaits us.
As a society, we have to implement universal design solutions to public spaces and housing stock. Something as simple as changing the doorknob or tap so that anyone can reach and use it will improve the immediate situation the older adult is in and their willingness to go out into the world confidently.
Hence, implementing mobility-conscious changes to our environment should be the new standard. Adapting existing multi-story housing presents the most significant challenge; new housing units will have to be built to enhance accessibility even if the residents are not yet seniors.
Enhanced accessibility may resolve many future problems and challenges of urban aging. However, the city infrastructure must change as well.
It is not only housing standards that are in desperate need of revision.
While outside on the street, older adults usually struggle with moving through the city safely and quickly. So, future construction work in U.S. cities ought to consider the needs of the elderly. Our current infrastructure is either not or only partially adapted to them.
Thus, we need to introduce and optimize the following:
- Longer pedestrian crossing times;
- Audible messages on the street and transportation;
- Height of buses and trams;
- Sidewalk height and condition;
- Bench placement;
Urban environments in the US are usually highly inadequate for the elderly.
Should the elderly stay in their homes or downsize?
It is not only the adequacy of housing of the aging population that is becoming a burning question in the U.S. Another problem associated with urban aging lies in the availability of housing units that older adults can sustain. Stepping into old age usually makes simple household tasks such as cooking or cleaning a challenge for older people.
So, many seniors choose to downsize or move to a nursing home as they can no longer afford or manage to take care of themselves in their homes. Hiring a nurse or caretaker might be a possibility if you do not want to leave your home. Unfortunately, government incentives usually do not cover the entire expense. If you are facing this issue, moving to a smaller home closer to your relatives might be a way to make your day-to-day life much easier.
Downsizing or moving in with your family is one of the options you have as an elderly person.
Of course, deciding on downsizing can seem daunting at first. Yet, moving to the same city or state as your family members should improve your quality of life and sense of security and belonging. So, if you are moving to New York City, for instance, make sure you locate the right moving crew that can help you pack and relocate your possessions safely. Platforms such as Best Movers NYC allow you to do comprehensive research and find the best moving services for any NYC area.
Most areas of the country have resources to find quality movers.
Ageism and Unemployment
Another significant challenge older people have to deal with daily is the culturally conditioned ageism directed against them. Since the 2008 financial crisis, our economy has deprivileged many people who are now unemployable due to their age.
Older adults cannot work because they are too old to hold onto their previous job; however, they cannot find a new job because they are too old even to be considered for the position.
In sum, many older people live in poverty that they cannot pull themselves out of.
Also, an alarming number of people simply cannot afford to invest in retirement plans like 401(k)s and cannot save much money at all. Many people have become destitute or even homeless as they grow older. This means we, as a society, need to encourage savings and planning at younger ages and, for those who are older, make available employment opportunities allowing older adults to re-enter the workforce.
There are many job opportunities, especially in urban areas, that older adults can perform successfully. The amount of experience an older person brings to a position can be very valuable to an employer.
Planning Early Eases Future Stress
There are very few things you can do when presented with aging issues with little resources. When we are younger many people ignore retirement planning and the consequences of aging.
When we plan, we help limit or avoid a family crisis when we get older. Taking advantage of employer retirement savings plans and considering adding legal documents like medical power of attorney and advance directives will help in the years ahead. Long-Term Care Insurance, for many families, will also provide future access to quality care options while protecting assets and reducing family burden.
About the Author
Jane Stinson is a relocation specialist who has worked with many seniors over the years. Having seen how hard some of them have taken it, she has decided to start blogging about helping seniors, and younger generations, move to their new homes. Jane aims to make the whole experience more comfortable. In her free time, she enjoys reading and gardening.
Contributor since March 26th, 2021
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