The Age-Friendly Movement: How it Grew and What Plans for an Older Future Could Achieve

The age-friendly movement is being embraced in small towns, cities and even states across the country. All of them see populations growing older and recognize that they must adapt. They are assessing needs and creating plans so their communities will be great places for residents of all ages to live in the future. The Gerontology Institute Blog invited three of the leading age-friendly voices in Massachusetts to discuss the movement — what it has achieved and where it is going.

Michael Festa is the Massachusetts state director of AARP, the leader in developing age-friendly community networks across the country.  Nora Moreno Cargie is president of the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, a leading supporter of work in healthy living with an emphasis on older adults. Jan Mutchler is director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her center works directly with communities across the state to assess age-friendly needs and develop action plans to address them. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

Q: Mike, AARP recently designated Massachusetts the nation’s second age-friendly state. How did that happen and what does it mean?

Michael Festa: It means Massachusetts is in a place where all departments of state government – not just public health and human services, but in all aspects – are committing to a process in which an age-friendly lens is applied. But the application also asks what you are doing already that is reflective of that commitment. There are a lot of things going on in communities with the age-friendly initiative. You already have a coordination of professional associations like planning councils and other groups. AARP asks, is this state in a place where we can acknowledge it is age-friendly or in the process of achieving all it is aspiring to do? The reality of what is happening in Massachusetts made it quite easy for AARP to say yes.

Nora Moreno Cargie: I would add just to that the Governor’s Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts. There’s this statewide body, to Gov. Baker’s credit. We talk to ourselves about ourselves — here you have three people who are involved in age-friendly stuff. What the governor recognized is that we had to talk to people in transportation and housing and those other areas, so that they could also become aware of what was necessary to achieve this age-friendly work.

Q: Local age-friendly planning is taking place all over the state. How did it become so popular on the municipal level?

Jan Mutchler: This whole initiative took off because there was an interest in doing something innovative, but there hadn’t been a name for it or models for it. It’s been so successful here because there were early adopters and the publicity about this being an initiative that had a name and a framework attached to it. People are excited and moving ahead because it’s been where they wanted to go all along. Communities approach all of this with very different capacities. We’re seeing a huge range needs for guidance and support. Continue reading