The best US cities for growing old, according to economists

It’s a stereotype that retired Americans retire often flock to cities in sunny states like California and Florida.

But a growing number of people ages 65 and older say they would rather age in their current communities. A recent AARP survey found that90% of older adults nationwide want to stay in their homes for as long as possible.

At the same time, US Census data suggests that many neighbourhoods are not designed to accommodate the needs of ageing Americans.But there are certain characteristics – like affordable healthcare, public spaces for physical activity, and accessible public transit – that can make cities better places for adults to live and age.

The Milkens Institute, a think tank comprised of economists around the US, recently compiled a report on the best cities for growing old. Looking at 100 large metro areas, the researchers analysed public data across nine categories, including housing costs, income equality, Medicare enrollment, the numbers of hospitals and households with older adults, and volunteer rates for older adults.

Milkens notes that the report doesn’t identify metros where older Americans should retire. It instead highlights cities that offer the best quality of life for residents to age in place.

The top 10 cities are below.


10. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California

Facebook/SF Gate

San Francisco offers many libraries, high rates of philanthropy, a large number of five-star nursing homes, few car crashes per capita, walkable communities, and mild weather.

However, living costs are high, so many Bay Area residents commute long distances to work.


9. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Massachusetts-New Hampshire

Getty ImagesPeople walk down Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square July 30, 2009 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This metro area features many physical therapists, dialysis centres, nurse practitioners, and orthopaedic surgeons. There are also low rates of Alzheimer’s, numerous 65-plus workers, and strong funding for transit and programs focused on older adults.

But many Boston-area residents also deal with high tax burdens, expensive hospital care, and relatively high rates of depression in Medicare recipients.


8. Jackson, Mississippi

Wikipedia Commons/Natalie MaynorA 2011 festival in Jackson, Mississippi.

There is a low unemployment rate among older adults, a high number of civic organisations and geriatric facilities in Jackson. Hospital and housing costs are low, too.

At the same time, the city has a high rate of income inequality, slow employment growth, high levels of car crashes and crime, and low levels of Medicare enrollment.


7. Omaha-Council Bluffs, Nebraska-Iowa

ShutterstockOmaha, Nebraska.

The Omaha-Council Bluffs area has a big volunteer community, an affordable cost of living, a low poverty rate among older adults, many fitness centres, and short commutes.

However, there are few hospitals and limited options for public transit.


6. Austin-Round Rock, Texas

Flickr / Ed SchipulAustin, Texas.

This metro area’s high-tech economy encourages an internet-savvy older population, a high employment rate for older adults, and a thriving small business climate. People who live in Austin or Round Rock also report low rates of chronic disease.

However, residents deal with pricey housing costs, long commute times, and few grocery stores.


5. Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa

tabor-roeder/FlickrA crowded Saturday morning farmers market in Des Moines, Iowa.

It’s affordable to live and find opportunities for volunteering and recreation in Des Moines. Plus, medical services are affordable, and there’s a large service industry with many older workers here.

Still, the area has sparse public transit and comparatively high rates of obesity.


4. Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City residents have easy access to financial services, cultural and recreational amenities, and low rates of diabetes and obesity. Among those 65 and older, there are low rates of poverty and income inequality, a high number of volunteers, and ample geriatric, physical therapy, and Alzheimer’s services.

But the city does not invest much in programs serving older adults. There are also few fitness facilities, a large number of fast-food chains, and housing is pricey for the region.


3. Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Sean Pavone/ShutterstockDurham, North Carolina.

This metro area’s hospitals are among the best in the nation. Durham-Chapel Hill boasts a high rate of employment rate in health, education, hospitality, and leisure industries, too.

At the same time, there are also high Alzheimer’s rates, comparatively high chronic illness levels, as well as high income inequality and inadequate public transit here.


2. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison features an array of health services and short ER waits. Many residents also walk to work, attend fitness centres, and volunteer here.

However, the city has high taxes, substantial unemployment among older adults, and few home-healthcare providers.


1. Provo-Orem, Utah

The Provo-Orem area stood out for its low rates of diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and obesity; a large 65-plus population that lives at home; high levels of volunteerism and internet usage among older adults; high employment growth; low crime and car-crash rates; recent accessibility improvements in public transit; and narrow income gap.

But the researchers also note that Provo-Orem’s healthcare services can be expensive, and there is meager funding for older-adult programs.

The report’s top US cities can address the fact that people are living longer, and many want to age in their current neighbourhoods, according to the researchers.

“When communities enable ageing adults to work, learn, volunteer, and participate socially and economically, the benefits accrue to younger people and the broader society as well,” the report reads.

In 2014, Milkens also created the Mayor’s Pledge, a set of guidelines for age-friendly policies. Nearly 200 mayors across the US have signed the pledge.

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