It may have come as no surprise to some local government leaders that the 2010 U.S. Census found that the nation's population continues to age. Many have been preparing for the oncoming wave of baby-boomer retirees for some time now, but a recent report found there remains much to be done to make communities senior-friendly.

The median age of Americans is now 37.2, an increase of 1.9 years from 35.3 a decade ago, according to the Census Bureau's “Age and Sex Composition: 2010” brief, released in mid-May. Between 2000 and 2010, the population 45 to 64 years old, which accounts for 26.4 percent of the total U.S. population, grew 31.5 percent to 81.5 million. The large growth in that age bracket reflects the aging of the baby-boom population, according to the brief.

Many communities have been preparing for, and seeing, an increase in their local aging populations for some time, says Sandy Markwood, executive director of the Washington-based National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a). “The statistic that everybody quotes is, by [2030], you're going to have almost one in five Americans being over the age of 65. But, when you look at the demographics of many of the cities and counties across the country, they're already there,” Markwood says.

In June, n4a released “The Maturing of America: Communities Moving Forward for an Aging Population,” which tracked the “aging readiness” of local governments around the country. The main issues it identifies are an increasing need to respond to financial concerns of older adults (primarily due to the recession), providing better public transportation and better housing.

For example, Markwood says, streets should be made safer for older drivers by installing easy-to-read signs and markings, and public transportation systems should include feeder routes for services, such as doctors, rather than just shuttling commuters to work. As for housing, along with providing more assisted living and dedicated senior housing, local governments also could include special zoning or subdivision ordinances aimed at senior populations.

Although most cities are experiencing financial hardships these days, Markwood says that does not have to stop them from preparing for an aging population. “A lot of these changes are a matter of, not getting new funding, but using the funding that exists now more intentionally to ensure that services are provided that recognize the needs of people across their lifespan,” she says.

“The Maturing of America” is available at www.n4a.org.

Doing some catching up

The 2010 Census also found that the population of men between the ages of 60 and 74 increased by 35.2 percent, while females in the same age group increased by just 29.2 percent. The increase in the older male population may be because of the narrowing gap in mortality between older men and women.

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