Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Indicators of Older Persons

The National Association of Planning Councils, as part of their Leading Social Indicators project tried to find a local --> national scaleable indicator on elder abuse. They couldn't find one, reporting instead the following:

"Despite being of significant concern, no reliable national measures of elder abuse exist. The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics in its report, Older Americans 2004: Key Indicators of Well-Being, calls for a national study of elder abuse and neglect, pointing out “the growing number of older people, increasing public awareness of the problem, new legal requirements for reporting abuse, and advances in questionnaire design” which should help in creating a national indicator set."Definitions in state law vary considerably from state to state in terms of what constitutes abuse, neglect, or exploitation of the elderly, which make comparisons at the state and national level difficult. Among the varying definitions to describe and study the problem are three basic situations of elder abuse: domestic, institutional and self-neglect. Within each situation are the categories of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Evaluation of the effectiveness of local efforts in elder abuse prevention depends on the development of a consistent definition of elder abuse and the ability to track reliable data."

Why is it important? Older adults are the fastest growing segment of our population. The well-being of our nation's seniors is important to society, as they present innumerable opportunities to contribute with their skills, knowledge and wisdom. While preventing elder abuse is not the same as ensuring a positive quality of life for seniors, it is a necessary precondition for elder well-being. Sadly, many abuse cases never come to the attention of the many agencies and community-based organizations whose goals are to assist the elderly. Often the victim depends on his or her abuser for basic necessities and care, and the abuse goes unreported. Other victims fail to seek assistance because of fear, shame or embarrassment."

Older Americans Update 2006: Key Indicators of Well-Being is now available, updating the 37 indicators identified in the 2004 report. While the report continues to be a useful source for demographic, economic, and health information, it still doesn't address safety or quality-of-life issues for seniors.

On the local level, several communities have been looking at ways to measure the quality of life of older persons. The Center for Community Solutions is one example -- see Older Persons for details.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported an effort to develop indicators of "elder-friendly" communities, and came up with 33 indicators they tested in 10 communities. Their list of indicators is instructive and survey-based. The survey instrument and more information is available at The AdvantAge Initiative.

As the Baby Boom population ages, and advances in medical care increase life spans, the percentage of the population over age 65 continues to grow. Finding the right indicators to measure how well communities address the needs of older persons and, perhaps more importantly, maintain or improve their quality of life, appears to be critical to creating better communities.


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