Age-Friendly Communities Initiative: Public Health Approach to Promoting Successful Aging

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2016 Dec;24(12):1158-1170. doi: 10.1016/j.jagp.2016.07.021. Epub 2016 Jul 28.


Older adults consistently prefer aging in place, which requires a high level of community support and services that are currently lacking. With a rapidly aging population, the present infrastructure for healthcare will prove even more inadequate to meet seniors' physical and mental health needs. A paradigm shift away from the sole focus on delivery of interventions at an individual level to more prevention-focused, community-based approaches will become essential. Recent initiatives have been proposed to promote healthy lifestyles and preventive care to enable older adults to age in place. Prominent among these are the World Health Organization's Global Age-Friendly Communities (AFC) Network, with 287 communities in 33 countries, and AARP's Network of AFCs with 77 communities in the United States. In an AFC, older adults are actively involved, valued, and supported with necessary infrastructure and services. Specific criteria include affordable housing, safe outdoor spaces and built environments conducive to active living, inexpensive and convenient transportation options, opportunities for social participation and community leadership, and accessible health and wellness services. Active, culture-based approaches, supported and developed by local communities, and including an intergenerational component are important. This article provides a brief historical background, discusses the conceptualization of the AFC, offers a list of criteria, narrates case studies of AFCs in various stages of development, and suggests solutions to common challenges to becoming age-friendly. Academic geriatric psychiatry needs to play a major role in the evolving AFC movement to ensure that mental healthcare is considered and delivered on par with physical care.

Keywords: Age-friendly communities; housing; leadership; mental health; social engagement.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Environment Design
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Housing for the Elderly
  • Humans
  • Independent Living*
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Social Environment
  • Social Support
  • Transportation