Imagine a tool that could help nations develop smarter policies to address the challenges and opportunities presented by our rapidly aging population.

That is the goal of The John A. Hartford Aging Society Index, currently being developed by the Aging Society Network under the leadership of John W. Rowe, MD.

The Aging Society Index project, approved by The John A. Hartford Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2015, is working to develop an evidence-based composite measure, or ‘index,’ that describes the capacity of countries to successfully adapt to the world’s aging population.

The index builds on the prior work of a number of prominent interdisciplinary scholars. It will serve both as a guide to the implementation of policies and a tool by which stakeholders can assess their effectiveness over time and across countries.

For more than three decades, The John A. Hartford Foundation has been working to improve the care of older adults and that long-term commitment has made us a leader in the field of aging. While our grantmaking is focused domestically and on our priority areas of age-friendly health systems, family caregiving, and end of life and serious illness, we take advantage of opportunities and partnerships that can be transformative for the entire field.

Just last week, our President Terry Fulmer wrote about the overarching problem of ageism and the negative ways that people think about older adults. She noted our support of the Reframing Aging project, which will have impact beyond our aging and health focus.

Similarly, the Aging Society Index project represents an opportunity to make a difference at the global and societal levels that could benefit older adults for generations to come.Dr. John W. Rowe

I recently had the opportunity to ask Dr. Rowe about the aging index. He started by discussing the five critical domains that will be used to assess the age-readiness of a society, and how they relate to our Foundation’s focus on the health of older adults.

“The five domains are Security, Productivity and Engagement, Well-Being, Cohesion (between generations as well as social connectedness), and Equity (which measures gaps in well-being and economic security between the haves and have-nots),” Dr. Rowe says. “Under each domain we consider economic, health, and social measures. Thus health is considered in each domain, and is particularly strong under 'Well Being.'”

The index initially will compare the United States with several countries in Europe, as well as Japan, he says.

“We are primarily using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), the Survey of Health and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD),” Dr. Rowe says. “We hope the index will guide development of policies to enhance the readiness of societies regarding the challenges of population aging and will permit measurement of a country’s progress in several relevant domains.”

Dr. Rowe says the index is expected to be done in the Spring 2017, and the plan is to present the results at the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG) World Congress in July 2017 in San Francisco.

We look forward with great anticipation to the rollout of the Aging Society Index, not only for the benefits it promises to offer to nations, but also for reasons much closer to home. It’s our hope that the index will help us measure our own progress as The John A. Hartford Foundation works to improve care for older adults, especially in the area of age-friendly health systems.

For more information about the John A. Hartford Aging Index, visit the Aging Society Network project page.