Built Environment and Mobility of Older Adults: Important Policy and Practice Efforts


  • Irene H. Yen PhD,

    Corresponding author
    • Department of Medicine, University of California at San Francisco, San Francisco, California
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  • Lynda A. Anderson PhD

    1. Division of Adult and Community Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia
    2. Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
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  • This is the first paper written for this section by one of the participants in the Health and Aging Policy Fellowship (HAPF), a program supported by Atlantic Philanthropies (see http://www.healthandagingpolicy.org).
  • These papers are intended to make readers aware of important health policy questions, describe how various government agencies and other organizations are addressing them, and illustrate how geriatrics health professionals, armed with the training provided by programs such as the HAPF, can participate in shaping health policy to improve geriatric care in the United States.

Address correspondence to Irene H. Yen, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, 3333 California St, Suite 335, San Francisco, CA 94118. E-mail: irene.yen@ucsf.edu


As people age, they prefer to “age in place.” The concept of aging in place refers to the ability to live in one's own home, wherever that might be, for as long as one can feel confident and comfortable. Where people live and whether these environments can support them are critical questions for public health and public policy, especially since the baby boomers began to turn 65 on January 1, 2011. Equally important for public policy, those aged 85 and older are the fastest growing population group in the United States. The Health and Aging Policy Fellows Program, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Aging Program, has supported a project to determine how design features of the built environment can support the mobility of older adults. Mobility refers to physical activity, usually walking, but also encompasses the ability to stay connected to nearby community resources and services. The project's purpose is to investigate features that support mobility in built environments. This policy brief introduces the realist synthesis method used in the project and selected national initiatives and activities to place this work in a broader context. Given the importance of mobility concerns to older adults, it must be determined without delay which design features support mobility and how local areas can better prepare to support the health of their aging populations.