Toolkit: Building Resilience in Older Adults: Step 02. Finding Common Ground

This step outlines ways in which the work of public health departments, AFCs, and villages can be aligned to optimize their ability to promote resilience among older adults.

What Is This Step?

Despite having disparate missions, responsibilities, and activities, public health departments, AFCs, and villages all have something in common—they are uniquely positioned to promote older adults' resilience. This step outlines ways in which the work of these three groups can be aligned to optimize their ability to promote resilience among older adults. An important starting point is exploring current goals and mission, as well as common activities to find areas for alignment.

What Are the Groups That Help Support Older Adults to Age in Place?

This toolkit focuses on two specific groups that support aging in place: villages and AFCs (Figure 2.1). In addition to being member-driven, grassroots, and inclusive of a volunteer network, villages are defined by key service-delivery and support functions: coordinating access to services; providing volunteer services (such as transportation, health and wellness activities, and social activities); offering access to vetted and discounted service providers; and positively impacting isolation, interdependence, purpose, and safety of individual members. The Village to Village Network website provides more detail on the village model.

AFCs focus on improving eight domains related to livability: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community and health services. However, instead of using a service-delivery model like villages, AFCs engage in a five-year strategic planning, implementation, and evaluation process that is intended to highlight and change the environmental, economic, and social factors that influence the health and well-being of older adults. The World Health Organization oversees the Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities and tracks and disseminates information about age-friendly practices to facilitate the work of these collaborations. In the United States, the work of the World Health Organization is extended by AARP, which offers toolkits and other resources to their members in the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities. More details on AFCs' five-year strategic planning process can be found on AARP's website.

Figure 2.1 Definitions of Aging-in-Place Groups

Figure 2.1 Definitions of Aging-in-Place Groups

Age-Friendly Initiative, top-down support

Agency collaboration at the municipal or regional level that seeks to facilitate the inclusion of older adults in all aspects of community life. Age-friendly communities strive to be inclusive of all members regardless of age, and to facilitate social connectedness and engagement of older adults in particular.

Village, bottom-up support

Membership-driven grass-roots non-profit organizations that seek to help older adults age-in-place successfully. Villages generally cover a neighborhood or a city but in some cases can cover multiple adjacent counties in more rural areas. Villages differ based on their size, governance structure, membership characteristics, and regional coverage.

What Do Public Health Departments Do?

Public health departments are government agencies that are responsible for creating and maintaining conditions to keep people healthy. They must be aware of the specific health issues confronting the community and how environmental, social, and economic conditions affect them. In this way, public health departments can be a helpful source of information to AFCs about community conditions.

Public health departments also implement health promotion programs and community engagement activities to address public health issues that may be useful to village members. Public health departments must form partnerships with public and private health care providers, community-based organizations, and other government agencies to collectively identify, alleviate, and act on the sources of public health problems—and public health departments provide expertise to others who treat or address issues of public health significance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the largest public health agency in the United States, recently published a series of reports on the state of health, mental health, and aging in America that call for a greater emphasis on older adults' mental health, use of preventive services (such as the flu and pneumonia vaccines), and protection during emergencies.

Figure 2.2 shows the ways that public health departments can impact daily life. A full operational definition of a functional public health department can be found on the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) website.

Figure 2.2 Public Health Department Responsibilities

Figure 2.2 Public Health Department Responsibilities

Public health departments impact our lives every day

Local health departments promote and protect the health of people and the communities where they live and work.

  • Immunization
  • Food safety
  • Infectious disease prevention and control
  • Chronic disease prevention and control
  • Injury and violence prevention
  • Environmental health
  • Maternal and child health
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Tobacco control

What Do These Aging-in-Place Groups and Public Health Departments Have in Common?

Both aging-in-place groups and health departments work toward creating communities where older adults can be healthy, happy, and safe in their homes. The work of AFCs and villages contributes to older adults' access to and use of preventive services, as well as their mental health (for example, through improved social participation)—both of which are important to promoting overall public health. In fact, AFCs target eight dimensions of livability (transportation, housing, social participation, respect and inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, community support and health services, and outdoor spaces and building) that all influence health, have implications for public health, and, thus, are relevant to the work of public health departments.

Public health departments offer health promotion programming and coordinate community and health services that could be useful to members living in villages and should be considered when developing an AFC strategic plan. In addition, public health departments have a range of expertise (for example, in infectious disease, fall prevention, and emergency preparedness) and are tasked with sharing that expertise with community and health service providers through training or other educational events and materials.

Villages have established networks and communication channels to reach older adult volunteers and members living at home—a group that is critical for public health departments and AFCs to identify and communicate with but often difficult to reach because they are diffused across their communities. These older adults can inform AFCs' planning by providing insight about where there are limitations and needs related to older adults' community and health services and transportation. Figure 2.3 summarizes the overlap in key functions of each of these groups.

Figure 2.3 Overlap in Key Functions of Aging-in-Place Groups and Public Health Departments

Figure 2.3 Overlap in Key Functions of Aging-in-Place Groups and Public Health Departments

Efforts to improve services and systems

Age-friendly community
  • Plan, implement, and evaluate activities that influence older adults' access to community and health services
Public health department
  • Coordinate community and health services
  • Provide expertise and training to community and health service providers
Village
  • Coordinate and vet access to community and health services

Overlapping areas

Goal

Community where older adults can be happy, healthy, and safe in their homes

Functions
  • Improving community and health services systems
  • Expanding community supports

Efforts to expand community supports

Age-friendly community
  • Plan, implement, and evaluate activities that influence older adults' access to transportation and social participation
Public health department
  • Implement health promotion programs
Village
  • Provide volunteer services (transportation, social, and educational events)

These areas of alignment across the missions and functions of AFCs, villages, and public health departments provide a common language and purpose around which these groups can collaborate on shared issues that not only advance their own work but also create opportunities to promote older adults' resilience.

Step Three goes into detail on activities that each group is doing and can do to promote older adults' resilience.

How Can I Find a Group Near Me?

There are AFCs in cities and states across the United States. You can find an alphabetical list and an interactive map of these communities on the AARP website. For each state, there is also a phone number and email address of an AARP representative who can provide more information on the AFCs in that state.

There is also a large nationwide network of villages. The Village to Village Network website provides an interactive map that allows users to filter by state, city, zip code distance, and whether a village is currently open or still in development. The map will show you the location of villages and provide a summary box including the village name, phone number, and a link to its website.

Similar to villages and AFCs, public health departments also have an online directory that allows you to find a public health department and contact information (phone number and email address) using an interactive map or a zip code search. The directory, hosted by NACCHO, can be inserted as a widget on your desktop, which will automatically update the directory every time new contact information becomes available.

Summary

Congratulations, you have completed the first interactive Step of the toolkit!

This Step provided information about what aging-in-place groups do (Figure 2.1), what public health departments do (Figure 2.2), and where these two groups have common ground or shared interests (Figure 2.3). The Step ended with information about how to find groups in your area for collaboration. Step Three will provide you with guidance on how to work with these same groups to promote not only older adults' health and safety but also their resilience.

Up Next:

Step 03. Improving Older Adults' Resilience

This step summarizes activities that aging-in-place groups and public health departments can undertake collaboratively to promote older adults' resilience.

View Step