Why Cleveland is a Smart Spot for Successful Aging

What did it take for Cleveland to earn its spot on the most recent Milken Institute list of Best Cities for Successful Aging?

Quite a lot, actually.

With an overall ranking of #19 among the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, Cleveland made a good showing on most of the 84 individual indicators used to identify age-friendly living environments for Americans 65 and older. Those indicators ranged from access to health care, cultural institutions, and transportation to crime rates, job growth and weather.

Looking specifically at the needs of seniors ages 80 and above, the city’s ranking rose to #10.

According to the study’s authors, the Milken report differs from other “best” rankings that tend to be based on opinion polls or narrow aspects of aging. “Our data-driven, detailed approach provides a deeper level of analysis,” they write in the report’s introduction. “Developed by our research staff with input from our ‘Best Cities for Successful Aging’ Advisory Committee, the report’s rankings are based on a weighted, multidimensional methodology that examines a broad range of quality-of-life factors for older Americans.”

The researchers bundled the 84 quality-of-life factors into eight broad categories that they believe define successful aging in the 21st century. Those include:

  • Health care
  • Financial
  • Wellness
  • Living arrangements
  • Employment/education
  • Transportation/convenience
  • Community engagement
  • General (which includes factors such as cost of living and employment growth)

Health Care Leads the Way

In the Cleveland metropolitan area, the study tells us, people ages 65 and older make up nearly 16 percent of the population. And this age group profits enormously from the region’s access to quality health care. In fact, Cleveland ranked 10th among the 100 largest metro areas in terms of health care. Specifically, the Milken study notes the availability of “top-notch” JCAHO-accredited hospitals (such as the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals); availability of geriatrics care, hospice care, dialysis centers, and programs for Alzheimer’s patients; short wait times in emergency rooms; and a large pool of orthopedic surgeons and nurses.

The Cleveland area was also ranked highly for its “relatively low” cost of living (#4 out of 100), moderate home prices (#8 out of 100) and “reasonably priced” adult day services (#19 out of 100).

Convenience and Community Engagement

Other strengths included the “day-to-day ease” of having access to grocery stores (#21) and special needs transportation (#15); the low dollar total of reverse mortgages among area seniors (#14), which is a measure of financial security; and the learning and employment options available through our abundant universities (#8) and community colleges (#34), a roster that includes Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, the Cleveland Institute of Art, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and Cuyahoga Community College.

With renowned institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra and the multiple theaters of Playhouse Square – not to mention the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the 11th most-visited national park among the nation’s 59! – it’s hardly a surprise that the region made a sound showing in terms of its arts, entertainment and recreational facilities (#51). The city also scored well in terms of volunteer opportunities for seniors (#38), and the number of public libraries (#23). And while other cities might have better weather, Cleveland ranks #8 among the 100 largest cities on a measure of safe driving.

Why It Matters

There’s no doubt about it: America is growing older, with nearly 80 million baby boomers joining, or preparing to join, the 65-and-older demographic. The crucial question is how we want to spend those later years.

According to the Milken Institute, as this growing population of older adults emerges, timeworn notions of aging no longer fit. “Older adults are staying in the workforce longer and anticipating more meaningful ‘golden years.’ New attitudes about work, health, housing, education, transportation, and other needs are evident. Millions of aging adults are upending convention, seeking to remain active and contributing members of their communities. A revolution in the ‘culture of aging’ is underway.”

Welcome to the revolution. Welcome to Cleveland.

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