What Can I 5 Year Old Do At Universal Studios How a Social Impact Calculator on Aging Can Help Your Community

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How a Social Impact Calculator on Aging Can Help Your Community

Many of our communities have engaged in community needs assessments, community health needs assessments, community economic development plans, and ongoing planning for the built environment. All of these planning lenses are useful ways of looking at communities and building the future. One of the most important lenses for community planning for the next 10 to 20 years is the projected impact of aging on our communities, counties, and states. What does it mean for the state to move from 39th in proportion of older adults in 2010 to 4th by 2030? What does a population shift that includes a more than 100% increase in older adults over the next 10 years, along with a projected decrease in the number of people under 40, mean for the county?

Understanding the demographic trend

The demographic trend has been called many names, such as the “Age Wave” or the “Silver Tsunami,” with arguments at meetings and on blogs about whether the terms are helpful or pejorative, descriptive or ageist. Additionally, some people find the term “elderly” difficult, while others find “seniors” condescending. Once people deal with analyzing the grammatical minefield, then it is most important to understand the demographic trend and other relevant factors.

Although some in the industry suggest that population aging is rather slow and easy to absorb, the vast majority of experts agree that it is a significant, rapidly changing trend that will not be easy to absorb. The research I conducted covered everything from future health worker shortages and gaps in the health system to the built environment, funding and policy trends. The potential impact of our aging population on communities and states is significant. It will require proactive and sustained responses at the community, state and national levels.

Some communities and states are better positioned to respond to this trend than others.

The impact also depends on several other key factors

The ability of groups to respond effectively depends on a number of other key factors. Although the demographic trend is the primary concern, other important factors affecting our ability to respond include the following:

  • Overall health of the community;

  • Poverty rate, average and median incomes (especially for the middle-aged and elderly);

  • Local municipal budgets, economic evaluation and taxing capacity;

  • Legislation, policies and funding related to both aging and community development;

  • Regional infrastructure and the built environment.

The impact of the demographic trend is also influenced by the state of community and regional planning that already exists to deal with the impact of aging on our communities. Leadership and civic engagement are also important factors that could help drive and mobilize initiatives. Leaders can and should respond. The issues are complex but not overwhelming. However, they need to be addressed proactively.

How the Social Calculator Can Predict the Potential Impact of Aging on Communities and States

Many of these factors have been analyzed by our team through a number of research and planning projects related to aging over the past few years. We are now finalizing the Social Impact of Aging Calculator, which can provide an initial scan of local and state environments. It addresses the key factors that shape the social, economic and community health of a county or state.

Research projects I have recently completed show that social determinants of health, health assessments, economic metrics, and policy issues either help communities and states move forward or serve as additional challenges.

Social determinants. Social determinants shape us as individuals, families and communities. They include things like family income, employment, poverty and financial assets. Income, assets, poverty, and unemployment have been shown to be some of the most important determinants of family and community health, health disparities, and health equity. Race and ethnicity have been identified as extremely important by the World Health Organization, US federal government agencies, and the health research and funding community. The individual, family and community level of education is also significant. Taken together or aggregated, community snapshots can be found that reflect the local economy, jobs and poverty; racial and ethnic mix; and education levels. They help predict how our lives will shape up in the future.

Community and State Health Rankings. Communities and states are rated for overall health by many research groups. One of the key national ratings used is the annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJ) rating. Regional health rankings and road maps. They provide excellent state and county rankings based on analysis using more than a few dozen separate indicators. This ranking provides extremely important information to help determine whether an area faces significant health disparities and inequalities. Assessments can tell planners whether a community’s health problems will present additional difficulties that will negatively affect the community’s ability to respond to the aging trend; or whether positive community health will make it easier for communities to implement response strategies. These health rankings can help inform plans that more effectively address key issues.

Economic benchmarks. Communities are largely shaped by economic trends large and small. Short-term and long-term economic ratings provide a snapshot of a community’s economic health. Counties and states with a strong economic rating have a greater ability to respond to these challenges than those with a weak economic picture. Communities facing job and capital loss and a shrinking tax base are not as well positioned to respond to the age wave as communities that have a different economic picture.

Other factors that can also help predict the impact of a demographic trend include whether or not a region is experiencing net population decline. Areas that are losing population will also begin to lose jobs and infrastructure over time if this cannot be proactively addressed.

Laws, policies, legislative initiatives, and funding priorities and strategies can also affect how well a local community or state is able to respond to this trend. Policies and funding that support economic development, the built environment, and services for older adults provide an environment that allows a community or county to proactively respond to this demographic trend.

The power of collective impact

The combined or collective impact of (1) demographic trends, (2) social determinants, (3) health assessments, (4) local and state economies, and (5) policies together shape a region’s sustainability. They can also serve as general predictions of how hard a community may be hit by an aging population. Together, these factors paint a picture of what could happen for communities, counties, and states. They help us understand current and projected collective impact.

Social Impact of Aging Calculator

The Social Impact of Aging Calculator looks at states and counties and provides an initial estimate of the level of impact you can expect from an aging population in your region. Some of the most important benchmarks that make up the predictive picture include:

  • Demographic factors

  • Social determinants of health

  • District Health Rankings (health outcomes and health risk behaviors)

  • Regional economic picture

  • Policy and funding framework

Working with the predictor

Any social impact calculator has predictive capabilities. Many economic calculators are successfully used by the World Bank, the Low Income Investment Fund and others. Robert Wood Johnson Regional health rankings and road maps and state-level health department profiles (such as New Mexico Community Snapshots) provide snapshots of community health that capture both the present and the near future. The Social Impact of Aging Calculator provides snapshots of the projected impact on a community and the strengths and weaknesses of a community that will affect its ability to respond. It provides a useful snapshot of local and state capacity that can help leaders select priorities that match their response capacity.

The predictors offer a holistic picture that can serve as an important starting point for communities and states to respond to the needs of older adults. They serve as broad frameworks or road maps. Once a predictor profile is created, community leaders can look deeper into the community to:

  • Understand and address key issues;

  • Choose priorities and create a size and scale of response that matches the capacity of the community;

  • build on community strengths and assets;

  • Reduce risks;

  • Create plans that connect stakeholders and leverage resources.

Each state and community has its own unique assets that can be leveraged to address this problem that are complex and difficult to measure using a social impact calculator. These include rich family and social networks, community leaders, volunteers, religious communities and civic organizations that represent significant community assets.

1. The term “Age Wave” was coined by Ken Dychtwald decades ago to capture an upcoming demographic trend that was then on the horizon and is now a reality.

2. Social Determinants of Health was developed by the World Health Organization and used by major institutions (US Department of Health and Human Services, Kaiser Foundation) and key research organizations across the US to address community health in a holistic manner.

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