Active Ageing And Age-Friendly Cities

The World Health Organization (WHO) released a Policy Framework on Active Ageing in 2002. Active ageing policy optimizes opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.

The active ageing approach is grounded in the UN-recognized principles of independence, participation, dignity, care and self-fulfillment. It acknowledges the importance of gender, earlier life experiences, and culture on how individuals age. It takes into account the biological, psychological, behavioural, economic, social and environmental factors that operate over the course of a person’s life to determine health and well-being in later years.

Active ageing is the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age. It applies to both individuals and population groups. This includes continuing participation in social, economic, cultural, spiritual and civic affairs, not just the ability to be physically active or to participate in the labour force. Older people who retire from work, either ill or who live with disabilities can remain active contributors to their families, peers, communities and nations.

Since the release of the Active Ageing Framework, it has been used by WHO to developing guidelines to make front-line primary health care services more “age-friendly” – that is, more accessible and responsive to the specific needs of older persons.

Age-Friendly Cities

More recently, the WHO has promoted a Global Age-Friendly Cities Project.  The aim of the Age-Friendly Cities project is to engage cities in several countries to make their communities more age-friendly.

One million people worldwide turn 60 every month; 80% of these live in developing countries.  By United Nations estimates, the number of older persons (60+) will double from the current 600 million to 1.2 billion by 2025, and again, to 2 billion by 2050. The vast majority of older people live in their homes and communities, but in environments that have not been designed with their needs and capacities in mind.

In an Age-Friendly City, public and commercial settings and services are made accessible to accommodate varying levels of ability. Many aspects of urban settings and services can contribute to the participation, health, independence and security of older persons in an age friendly city. These include:

  • Participation
  • Positive images of older persons
  • Accessible and useful information
  • Accessible public and private transportation
  • Inclusive opportunities for civic, cultural, educational and voluntary engagement
  • Barrier-free and enabling interior and exterior spaces
  • Health
  • Places and programs for active leisure and socialization
  • Activities, programs and information to promote health, social and spiritual well-being
  • Social support and outreach
  • Accessible and appropriate health services
  • Good air/water quality
  • Security and independence
  • Appropriate, accessible, affordable housing
  • Accessible home-safety designs and products
  • Hazard-free streets and buildings
  • Safe roadways and signage for drivers and pedestrians
  • Safe, accessible and affordable public transportation
  • Services to assist with household chores and home maintenance
  • Supports for caregivers
  • Accessible stores, banks and professional services
  • Supportive neighbourhoods
  • Safety from abuse and criminal victimization
  • Public information and appropriate training
  • Emergency plans and disaster recovery
  • Appropriate and accessible employment opportunities
  • Flexible work practices

An age-friendly community benefits people of all ages. The whole community benefits from the participation of older persons in volunteer or paid work and civic activities. Finally, the local economy benefits from the patronage of older adult consumers.

The WHO and partners from all continents will first consult with older persons, and then with community leaders and experts, to identify the major physical and social barriers to active ageing. Each partner will use this knowledge to develop, implement and evaluate local action plans to make the environment more age-friendly. To share the learnings, the WHO will compile the results into practical “Age-Friendly City” guidelines that could be used by cities around the world.

Many other governments and civil society organizations are partners in the Global Age-Friendly Cities project.  Here in British Columbia, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Ministry of Health of British Columbia and 2010 Legacies Now are all involved.

New York Is A  Senior-Friendly City

Civic leaders, nonprofits and even businesses are starting a growing movement to help cities become more accessible to seniors . According to the WHO, New York City is leading this movement.

On June 23, seniors gathered by the hundreds at Thomas Jefferson Park to celebrate the East Harlem Senior Health Fair.  Here are some of the steps being taken:

  • East Harlem became the city’s first “aging improvement district.”
  • The New York Academy of Medicine created a program that allows seniors to travel to distant shopping destinations by school bus.
  • A commissioned report showed which Upper West Side grocery stores were most senior-friendly, featuring amenities like public bathrooms and single-serving meats.
  • A “Time Bank” lets people of different ages barter skills. For example, an older person might volunteer to teach painting classes in exchange for free lessons in social media from a younger person.
  • City taxis will soon begin to be replaced by models designed with greater accessibility in mind.

This can be seen as a major challenge but if handled well it will bring major benefits:

The ability of America to accommodate its aging population has important social and economic implications — and these implications are made all the more real by the budgetary pressures facing not only the federal government, but also city and local governments. The outdated view is that older workers contribute less in taxes and produce a strain on government coffers when it comes to paying out benefits like Medicare and Social Security. The new view, embraced by social innovators worldwide, is that these elderly citizens can actually be a force of economic and social transformation. Inspired by initiatives like the Age-Friendly Cities initiative, cities should continue to create innovative social solutions – not just medical or technological solutions – to embrace an aging population.

How Age-Friendly Are Canadian Cities

CARP has done a poll on 17 Canadian cities with populations of 400,000 or more. CARP was originally the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, but is now billed as Canada’s Association for the Fifty-Plus.  It is a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization committed to a ‘New Vision of Aging for Canada’ promoting social change to bring financial security, equitable access to health care and freedom from discrimination. 

The study looked at five key metrics:

  • Ease of living overall
  • Ease of using transit
  • Ease of accessing affordable housing
  • Ease of pedestrian access
  • Ease of accessing health care and home care services

The key findings of the study were:

  • Overall, Canada’s towns and cities are seen to be easy places for older people to live.
  • Affordable housing for seniors is a challenge across the country.
  • Quality life for older people appears to be highest in BC, and among the oldest males in our sample.
  • When respondents are asked which ONE factor could improve life in their towns for older people, the most common response is “more home care services”, followed by a variety of municipal planning ideas.

Peterborough is seen to have by far the highest CARP Age-Friendly Index™ score, followed by Winnipeg and Montreal.  Cities in the prairies score lowest (Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna), chiefly because of the lack of transit and pedestrian amenities.  Residents of the major cities score their towns higher than those who do not live in cities largely due to access to public transit.  More than 2300 CARP ActionOnline readers responded to the poll.

Clearly the WHO initiative for Age-Friendly Cities is striking a chord around the world.

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