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Is your community a good place to grow old? Plug your zip code into AARP tool to find out

Liesbeth Boxman, right, chats with a volunteer during a grocery delivery at her DC apartment . Boxman is part of a senior village, where individuals pay for services to age in place receive services  Jared Soares/The Washington Post)

Are you considering staying put as you grow older, but aren’t sure whether it would be a wise move? A new online rating tool  ranks nearly every neighborhood in the United States on its suitability for aging-in-place.

The AARP Livability Index uses factors such as safety, security, ease of getting around, access to health care, housing affordability, and even the prevalence of WiFi, farmers markets and public policies that promote successful aging.

Users punch in their Zip code or street address, and the Web site crunches data to show how a community lines up against others. Ratings come on a scale of 0-100. Users can also rejigger the weight placed on certain factors to suit themselves. Someone who doesn’t care whether his town has adopted energy-efficient policies could reduce their importance in the calculations while boosting the relevance of housing costs.

For an older person on Raleigh Avenue in Garrett Park, Md., the livability index gives his home a score of 54. Across the Potomac River, his suburban counterpart on Queen Anne Drive in the City of Fairfax receives a score of 59. Overall, the District ranked best in the metro area, with a score of 58. Montgomery County edged Fairfax County, 59 to 57. Maryland came in at 54, and Virginia scored 51.

Officials at AARP’s Public Policy Institute said the index’s wide range of factors means it’s relevant for more than just the 50-plus crowd. Young families may also find it useful to know what communities rate high on transportation and whether its buses are accessibile for people with disabilities or parents with strollers.

“We consider this an index for all ages,” Jana Lynott, manager of the Livability Index, said.

AARP officials said they hope the index — which went live on Monday — will be useful not just for helping people to decide where to live but help them take the lead finding ways to improve and alter their communities so that people can age in place as the United States population turns grayer.

The proportion of people in the United States who are 65 and older is surging. Their numbers are projected to grow to nearly 84 million by 2050, almost double the estimated 43 million elders in 2012, Census Bureau data show. As the pace of change has accelerated, especially since Baby Boomers hit 65 in 2011, so have calls to reshape the communities where they will be living.

That’s also the thinking behind other indices out there, too, such as the Milken Institute’s “Best Cities for Successful Aging” index. The Milken Institute’s index focuses on 359 metropolitan areas, as more than 80 percent of the U.S. population now lives in urban areas. It then ranks their performance on enabling successful aging. The findings also break the rankings down into three subsets for each city: one for the aging population overall, one for people 65 to 79, and one for those 80 and older.

On the Milken Institute index, for example, Madison, Wisconsin ranks No. 1 overall. The Washington, D.C. metro area ranks 20th. For the 65-79-year-old set, the Washington metro area ranks 11th, with a score of 95.07. For people 80 and older, it ranks 18th with a score of 90.68.

The creators of the AARP Livability Index – a collaborative effort of 30 academic experts and policy makers that took two years of work – said theirs differs from Milken Institute’s and others by the unusually granular look at specific communities and the breadth of the factors that are used to rank them.

The AARP Livability Index looks at more than 200,000 neighborhoods, using Census Bureau-defined block groups, which are its smallest aggregates. It also draws on years of research into what makes a community desirable and comfortable for people who are 50 years old and older, said Rodney Harrell, a housing expert at AARP’s Public Policy Institute.

Harrell said surveys consistently show that people want to grow old in the homes and neighborhoods where they have spent most of their lives – the concept known as aging-in-place. He said data also shows that that aging in place costs about one third of what it costs to age in an institutional setting. His hope is that the index will drive people to make the changes necessary to allow them to remain in their homes.

“The index will help communities and people within those communities work to make their neighborhoods better,” Harrell said. “But what’s most important is, we need to make those changes now. We cannot wait to make the changes communities need.”