How an Aging Social Impact Calculator can help your community

Many of our communities have been involved 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 helpful ways to look at communities and build for the future. One of the most important lenses for community planning over the next 10 to 20 years is the likely impact of aging on our communities, counties and states. What does it mean for a state to go from 39th relative to older adults in 2010 to 4th by 2030? What does it mean for a county to have a population shift that includes an increase in older adults of over 100% over the next 10 years along with a projected decrease in the number of people under 40?

Understand the demographic trend

Many names have been given to the demographic trend, such as “ageing wave” and “silver tsunami,” with meetings and blogs arguing about whether these terms are helpful or pejorative, descriptive or age-appropriate. In addition, some people find the term “older” difficult, while others perceive “seniors” as paternalistic. Once you’ve delved into analyzing the grammatical minefield, it’s all about understanding both demographics and other content-related factors.

Although some experts point out that population aging is rather slow and easy to absorb, the vast majority of experts agree that this is a significant, rapidly changing trend that cannot be easily absorbed. The research I have conducted has covered everything from future healthcare workforce shortages and healthcare system gaps 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, sustained responses at the local, state and national levels.

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

The effect also depends on some other key factors

The ability of groups to respond effectively depends on a number of other key factors. Although demographics are the main concern, other important factors affecting our responsiveness include:

  • general health of the community;
  • Poverty rates, mean and median incomes (especially for middle-aged and older people);
  • Local municipal budgets, economic ratings and tax capacity;
  • legislation, policies and funding related to aging and community development;
  • Regional infrastructure and built environment.

The impact of demographics is also shaped by the level of community and regional planning that is already in place 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. Managers can and should react to this. The problems are complex but not overwhelming. However, they must be addressed proactively.

How a social calculator can predict the potential impact of aging on communities and states

Many of these factors have been analyzed by our team in a number of age-related research and design projects over the last several years. We are now completing a social impact aging calculator that can provide an initial scan of the local and state environment. It addresses key factors that shape the social, economic, and community health of a county or state.

Research projects I recently completed show that the social determinants of health, health rankings, economic benchmarks, and political issues either help communities and states move forward or serve as additional challenges.

social determinants. The social determinants shape us as individuals, families and communities. This includes things like family income, jobs, poverty, and financial assets. Income, wealth, poverty and unemployment have been identified as some of the most important determinants of family and community health, health inequalities and health equity. Race and ethnicity have been considered extremely important by the World Health Organization, US federal agencies, and the health research and funding community. The individual, family and community level of education is also important. Taken together or aggregated, one finds community snapshots reflecting local economies, jobs and poverty; racial and ethnic mix; and levels of education. They help to predict how our lives will be shaped in the future.

Community and State Health Rankings. Many research groups rate communities and states based on their overall health. One of the main national ratings used is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJ) Yearbook. County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. They provide excellent state and county ratings based on analysis using more than a few dozen separate indicators. This ranking provides extremely important information to determine if an area faces significant health disparities and inequalities. Rankings can tell planners if health challenges in the community create additional difficulties that negatively impact the community’s ability to respond to the aging trend; or whether positive community health will make it easier for communities to implement strategies to respond. These health rankings can help inform plans that address key issues more effectively.

Economic benchmarks. Communities are very much shaped by economic trends, big and small. Short-term and long-term economic ratings provide a picture of the economic health of the community. Counties and states with strong economic ratings are better placed to respond to these challenges than countries with weak economics. Communities facing job and capital losses and a declining tax base are not as well positioned to respond to the aging wave as communities that have a different economic picture.

Other factors that can also help predict the impact of demographic trends are whether or not a region has a net population loss. Areas of declining population will also lose jobs and infrastructure over time unless 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 create an environment that facilitates a community or county’s proactive response to this demographic trend.

The power of collective action

The combined or collective impacts of (1) demographic trends, (2) social determinants, (3) health rankings, (4) local and state economies, and (5) politics collectively shape a region’s sustainability. They can also serve as general predictors of how severely a community might be affected by population ageing. Taken together, these factors paint a picture of what can happen for communities, counties and states. They help us understand current and projected collective impacts.

Social Impact of Aging Calculator

The Aging Social Impact Calculator looks at states and counties and provides an initial prediction of the magnitude of the impact you can expect from population aging in your area. Some of the key benchmarks that make up the prediction image are:

  • Demographic Factors
  • Social determinants of health
  • County Health Ranking (Health Outcomes and Health Risk Behaviors)
  • economic picture of the district
  • policy and funding framework

Working with a predictor

Every social impact calculator has predictive capabilities. Many economic calculators have been used successfully by the World Bank, the Low Income Investment Fund, and others. Robert Wood Johnson’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps and state health department profiles (such as the New Mexico Community Snapshots) provide images of community health that capture both the present and the near future. The Aging Social Impact Calculator provides snapshots of the projected impact on a community, and the community’s strengths and weaknesses in this context impact its responsiveness. It provides a helpful picture of local and state capacities that can help leaders choose priorities that match their responsiveness.

Predictors provide a holistic picture that can serve as an important starting point for municipalities and states to address the needs of older people. They serve as broad frameworks or roadmaps. Once a predictor profile has been developed, community leaders can gain deeper insight into the community to:

  • Understand and address key issues;
  • Prioritize and create the size and scope of a response to match community capacity;
  • Build on the strengths and assets of the community;
  • reduce risks;
  • Create plans that bring stakeholders together and leverage resources.

Every state and municipality has its own unique set of resources that can be used to respond to this problem, which is complex and difficult to measure with a social impact calculator. These include the rich family and social networks, community leaders, volunteers, faith communities and civic organizations that represent significant community assets.

1. The term “Age Wave” was coined by Ken Dychtwald decades ago to describe the coming demographic trend that was on the horizon then and is a reality today.

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