Connecticut is facing a new, long-term reality—older adults will comprise an increasingly large proportion of the population. At least 20 percent of almost every town’s population in the state will be 65 years of age or older by 2025, with some towns exceeding 40 percent.
So in 2013, Connecticut’s legislature took a bold and smart step. It created an ongoing, statewide initiative to help Connecticut communities be more aging-supportive. It charged Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging with leading the way (see Section 17b-420a of the Connecticut General Statutes). And then, in a shocking move, the Appropriations Committee budget, and consequently the governor’s revised budget, targeted the Commission on Aging for elimination, at the very moment the 23-year-old commission has catapulted Connecticut into national and international recognition for its achievements.
We are all on a shared journey of aging. And we will all one day ask —can I continue to live in my home and community? Aging-supportive communities are places with affordable, accessible and diverse housing and transportation options; places and opportunities for connection and community engagement; and robust health services. Thoughtful planning can make such communities a reality, to the benefit of all ages. Done right, they make us healthier and help the environment. And done now, they will generate enormous revenue and savings for Connecticut.
For example, providing long-term care to older adults and persons with disabilities in nursing homes and similar settings costs Connecticut a whopping $2.8 billion each year—14 percent of the state’s budget. Through years of leadership, Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging has been working with stakeholders and partners across branches of government to reduce costs, especially by helping people receive their care in their homes and communities, rather than more restrictive settings. The result? $700 million of avoided costs—every year—by 2025.
But are towns and cities in Connecticut ready to support and welcome growing numbers of longer-lived older adults?
Through its livable communities initiative, the Commission has provided consultative support to at least 20 Connecticut towns, helping them proactively prepare for significant demographic shifts. The Commission identifies funding opportunities for Connecticut’s municipal leaders to implement or sustain work that helps communities support residents across the lifespan. They create and catalog resources. They tirelessly educate on how to make communities more aging-supportive.
On the international stage, they were invited by the World Health Organization to help develop a guide to measure the aging-supportiveness of communities. On the national stage, they have worked with the American Planning Association and its Connecticut Chapter to draft comprehensive reports on housing and transportation, analyzing statewide survey data and putting forth state-specific policy recommendations.
The Commission has also begun connecting local and regional planners to Planning Aging-Supportive Communities, a guide recently released by the American Planning Association. The guide reflects APA’s broader commitment to identifying the emerging challenges and opportunities of planning for an aging population—and shaping thoughtful places of enduring value. In its tool kit of resources, Connecticut’s efforts are highlighted as a prime example of state, regional and local leadership.
With a lean budget that’s already been cut and a staff of just four employees, Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging works to help towns toward providing meaningful choices —so that all residents can age in place with dignity. And their ongoing work to shape aging-supportive communities represents only one facet of the Commission’s wide-ranging mandates.
For example, the legislature recently charged the Commission to conduct a comprehensive, nationally recognized report on elder abuse, suffered by at least 10 percent of adults age 60 and older. The legislature also charged the Commission with creating a web portal to help financial agents learn how to prevent and detect financial abuse and exploitation of older adults, which results in at least $2.9 billion annually in losses nationwide.
Connecticut and other states often pay private consultants for this sort of work. But the Commission does it all at no additional cost, within available appropriations.
Local, state and national leaders are all depending on the Commission’s leadership. Planners can and do look to the Commission for resources and technical support to make Connecticut towns and cities places in which we can all grow up—and grow older. We need the Legislative Commission on Aging’s efficiently executed cost-saving strategies now more than ever.
Emily Hultquist is the President of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association. Ramona Mullahey is the Champion of the American Planning Association’s Division Council Initiative on Aging and Livable Communities.