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What is the AdvantAge Initiative?

The AdvantAge Initiative is a dynamic community-building effort focused on creating vibrant and elder-friendly, or "AdvantAged," communities prepared for an increasing number of older residents.

"AdvantAged" communities:

Build their capacity to support the health, well being, and independence of all their elders, including older people at risk for disease and disability and the disabled or frail elderly.
Actively engage older adults and their considerable civic, social, and financial assets to make their communities a better place to live.

Is the AdvantAge Initiative a needs assessment project?

No. A needs assessment asks people what their needs are and matches these needs to existing or planned services. Needs assessments are often used to justify existing service and funding levels or to request additional resources.

The goal of the AdvantAge Initiative is not to match the needs of individuals or groups of individuals with particular services. It is to help communities understand what their older citizens think about where they live, what they have to offer, and what they would like to have to help them remain vital, independent and contributing community members.

Why is the AdvantAge Initiative important?

As we enter the 21st century, the composition of communities throughout the country is changing. The number of people age 65 and older will increase substantially during the next 50 years. People between the ages of 65 and 85 are the least likely to move. Many more people stay in their own homes as they age than move to retirement communities.

Facing the prospect of a burgeoning older population, communities large and small throughout the country are grappling with the same issues:

Building capacity to support the health and well-being of their older residents,
Actively engaging older residents in community life, and
Meeting the special needs of the very old, frail and homebound.

What is a "community"?

A "community" is comprised of people who live within a geographically defined area and have social, cultural, and psychological ties with each other and with the place where they live.

What are communities doing in this initiative?

Finding out what older residents think about their communities;
Assessing their current capacity to meet the needs of older residents;
Identifying and bringing together key individuals and resources to increase community elder friendliness;
Developing a plan of action to make the community an AdvantAged one.

How were the AdvantAge Initiative communities selected?

Ten communities across the country were selected as pilot sites. The national AdvantAge Initiative team, which is based in New York City, recognized a number of assets in each of the communities, including:

Commitment to meeting the needs of all residents, including older people;
Recognition of older people as vital assets and an advantage to community life;
Ability to develop a strong network of service providers, advocates, and other influential individuals and organizations to help the community meet its goals;
An interest in serving as a national model for other communities that want to become AdvantAged communities.

Which communities are part of the AdvantAge Initiative?

Northwest Chicago, Illinois
Indianapolis, Indiana
Jacksonville, Florida
Lincoln Square Neighborhood, NYC, NY
Maricopa County, AZ
Orange County, Florida
Puyallup, Washington
Santa Clarita, California
Upper West Side, NYC, NY
Yonkers, New York
Contra Costa, California
Grand Rapids, Michigan

What is the AdvantAge Initiative survey?

The AdvantAge Initiative survey provides a "data snapshot" of how well a community is supporting the aspirations and meeting the needs of its older adults. The AdvantAge Initiative will use these data to build awareness, drive planning, and spur action that will create more vibrant, AdvantAged communities.

How is the AdvantAge Initiative survey organized?

The AdvantAge Initiative survey covers four "domains" or general areas that make a community a good place for older people to life. The "dimensions" within each domain provide a greater degree of specificity, and the "indicators," even more specific, serve as the basis for survey questions.

What does an indicator do?

An indicator is a piece of information or "data" that can track a trend over time. Often, more than one indicator is related to a trend. For example, physical health can be measured by a number of indicators. These include weight, blood pressure, muscle strength and other indicators. No one of these indicators "causes" physical health, but they all contribute to it. Tracking changes in trends in the weight, blood pressure, muscle strength and other indicators of community members as a group helps you determine how healthy the community population as a whole is.

See sample data model

What is a benchmark?

A benchmark marks changes in a specific indicator. For example, a community concerned that 50% of its adult citizens are overweight implements a weight loss initiative. They could use the "50%" as the "starting off point," measuring against it the number and percent of people who lose weight over time. Or, they can set a specific goal for themselves, e.g., over twelve months the number of overweight adults in the community will be reduced by ten percent.

How were AdvantAge Initiative indicators and benchmarks selected?

The AdvantAge Initiative team:

Reviewed existing literature on aging, health, and community indicators;
Solicited input from experts and opinion leaders;
Conducted focus groups to learn what factors make a community a good place in which to grow older;
Convened meetings with community development experts, journalists, survey design experts, city government officials and representatives from participating communities. Participants critiqued draft indicators and benchmarks and provided guidance for refining them.

The indicators and benchmarks were continually distilled and refined until, through a consensus process, it was agreed they reflect many of the critical aspects of AdvantAged communities.

How will the AdvantAge Initiative's success be measured?

The AdvantAge Initiative team will work with communities to assess how they use the Advantage Initiative survey data and community process to:

Confirm and document previously recognized problems and assets;
Identify problems and assets that had not been previously recognized;
Develop additional information-gathering efforts to augment survey data;
Begin positioning aging-related issues on the public agenda;
Develop a strategy, policy or program to address one or more of the AdvantAge Initiative survey indicators; and
Make resource allocation decisions and/or set targets for community improvement.

Now that the survey data are in, communities are focusing on:

Reading and interpreting indicators in combination with what they already know about their communities;
Sharing results with stakeholder workgroups to encourage stakeholder collaboration;
Setting priorities and targets for improvement;
Validating community priorities;
Informing and modifying funding decisions and action plans.

"We have heard from the older people in our community. Now we are deciding what to do and how to get it done," Paulette Geller, Winter Park Health Foundation.

What organizations and funders have contributed support for the AdvantAge Initiative?

Archstone Foundation
The Atlantic Philanthropies
Helen Andrus Benedict Foundation
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The John A. Hartford Foundation
CICOA – The Access Network
Mather LifeWays
The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust
The Retirement Research Foundation
The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, Inc.
Winter Park Health Foundation