Redesign Physical Structures and Social Institutions to Promote Health, Well-Being, and Choice for All Ages

The world is facing a dramatically changing demographic composition that combines increasing diversity, growth in the population size, and longer life expectancy. The physical structures, social institutions, and role expectations will need to modernize and be recreated to promote health, well-being, and choice for all ages. In particular, the older population–persons 65 years or older– has more than tripled from 4.1% of the United States population in 1900 to 12.9% in 2009, and will almost double between 2000 and 2030 to 72.1 million older persons (Administration on Aging, 2010). These older adults will be more racially and ethnically diverse and include generational cohorts and age groups that span several decades. The needs, strengths, and contributions will vary greatly between the young-old (65-74 age group) and the oldest-old (85+ group). Current age-segregated services and social institutions may need to be revised and expanded to better promote strengths and respond to individualized needs. Plus, the health and social service workforce faces a shortage of trained gerontological social workers. While innovative and effective models that promote health, well-being, choice for all ages exist, and interest in gerontological social work, a gap persists in their reach to all communities. The growth of age friendly communities can facilitate choice in living situation, inter-generational opportunities, social engagement across ages, and optimal health and well-being. Social workers, with interdisciplinary partners, can lead the way in expanding, redesigning, and enhancing the physical structures and social institutions to respond to the changing demographic of our longer lives.

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