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Healthy Aging & the Built Environment

elderly man in city Older adults interact with the built environment in ways that reflect changing lifestyles and changing physical capabilities. After retirement, people have more time to enjoy parks, recreational activities, and other community facilities.

At the same time, conditions such as chronic diseases and limited vision may limit mobility and create special needs. For example, an older adult who is no longer able to drive but lives in an area with buses, transit, and other transportation options has the ability to stay mobile well beyond the capacity of many in suburban communities.

Affordable, accessible and suitable housing options can allow older adults to age in place and remain in their community all their entire lives. Housing that is convenient to community destinations can provide opportunities for physical activity and social interaction. Communities with a safe and secure pedestrian environment, and near destinations such as libraries, stores, and places of worship, allow older adults to remain independent, active, and engaged. Combined transportation and land-use planning that offers convenient, accessible alternatives to driving can help the older adults reach this goal of an active, healthy lifestyle.

For more information on healthy aging and the built environment, refer to the following resources:

  • CDC Healthy Aging Research Network
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Healthy Aging Research Network (HAN), in operation since 2001, works to develop and implement a national research and dissemination agenda related to the public health aspects of healthy aging, with a particular focus on communities and populations that bear a disproportionate burden of illness and disease.

  • USEPA Active Aging Web Site
    The Web site provides information about the Agency's efforts to protect the environmental health of older persons. These efforts include raising awareness across the nation about healthy synergies that can be achieved by communities combining Smart Growth and Active Aging concepts.

  • Clark, K. Aging and the National Prevention Strategy. Philadelphia (PA): Philadelphia Corporation for Aging; 2014.
    The report utilizes the National Prevention Strategy as a springboard to both build aging issues into the broader public health agenda and to inspire organizations that support older adults to align with this public health strategy.

  • AARP Livable Communities Evaluation Guide [PDF - 4.3 MB]
    The purpose of this guide is to encourage people to take a new look at their community or neighborhood in order to make it more livable for themselves and others. Although this guide is written from the perspective of older persons, the features and services discussed promote livability for persons of all ages and abilities.

  • AARP Public Policy Institute Livable Communities Web Site
    The Web site is a resource for policymakers, researchers and the public to learn more about the benefits of livable communities. The Web site showcases research on housing, transportation and land use issues with a focus on the impact on older Americans. It also provides access to publications on policy topics such as: aging in place, the state of US housing conditions for older adults, universal design and visitability, and Complete Streets.

  • Planning Complete Streets for An Aging America [PDF - 4 MB] AARP National Policy Institute, 2009.
    The report examines the evolving state of the transportation and design practice with regards to these issues, and offers recommendations to advance mobility and accessibility for older adults within the realms of transportation policy, planning and engineering.

  • Global Age-Friendly Cities: A Guide [PDF - 1.49 MB] World Health Organization, 2007.
    The purpose of this Guide is to help cities identify where and how they can become more age-friendly. The Guide describes the advantages and barriers that older people experience in cities at different stages of development.

  • Age-Friendly Built Environments: Opportunities for Local Government . Australian Local Government Association, 2006.
    This report discusses the importance of including older citizens in city design plans.

  • The Institute on Aging and Environment at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, School of Architecture and Urban Planning
    Promotes research, scholarship, and service concerning environments for older persons.

  • Heumann LF, McCall ME, Boldy DP, editors. Empowering frail elderly people: opportunities and impediments in housing, health and support service delivery: Westport, CT: Praeger; 2001. This book includes several very relevant chapters, such as “The Role of the Built Environment in Holistic Delivery of Home- and Community-Based Care Services to Frail Elderly Persons.”

  • The Social and Built Environment in an Older Society. Committee on an Aging Society. National Academies Press, 1988.
    The report addresses the social implications of architectural and interpersonal environments for older adults. It suggests how society and its structures can enhance the productivity of, and preserve the quality of life for, older residents in a community. The study investigates new approaches to the problem, including new housing alternatives and new strategies for reflecting the needs of the elderly in housing construction.

  • National Aging in Place Council
    The primary mission of the National Aging in Place Council is to establish an ongoing forum between individual professionals (from the private, public and non-profit sectors) and corporations to work together to promote aging in place. Secondly, we hope to encourage senior citizens, recent retirees, and Baby Boomers to be proactive in planning for their future housing and care needs, and provide ideas and information to help them do so.

    Additional information on healthy aging and the built environment as well as other related topics can be found in the Additional Resources section.

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