Age-Friendly Communities

Discover how age-friendly communities are transforming cities, promoting healthy aging globally.

June 2, 2024

Understanding Age-Friendly Communities

The concept of age-friendly communities is gaining prominence as the global population ages. To understand what these communities entail and why they matter, it's beneficial to delve into the evolution of age-friendly initiatives and understand the importance of creating age-friendly environments.

Evolution of Age-Friendly Initiatives

The idea of creating environments that cater to the needs of older adults has evolved over time. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been a pioneer in this regard with the establishment of the Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities in 2010 [1]. The network currently includes 1542 cities and communities in 51 countries, covering over 320 million people worldwide.

The majority of age-friendly initiatives occur in the developed world, indicating a growing awareness and commitment to addressing the needs of an aging population in these regions.

Importance of Age-Friendly Environments

The importance of age-friendly environments stems from the rapid growth of aging populations worldwide. By 2050, the global population of people over the age of 60 years is expected to reach almost two billion, making aging a global priority.

Age-friendly communities are crucial in addressing the needs of this demographic. They take into account the physical and social environments that impact the well-being of older adults. Key factors in creating these environments include multi-stakeholder collaborations, government commitment, inclusion of older persons, and policies that tackle both physical and social environments.

Creating age-friendly environments is not merely about accommodating the needs of the elderly. It's about building inclusive and accessible urban environments that enhance the quality of life for all ages. Age-friendly communities promote active aging by optimizing opportunities for good health, participation, and security, enabling people to age actively and live in security, enjoy good health, and continue to participate fully in society.

Understanding the concept of age-friendly communities and the initiatives that underpin them is the first step towards transforming our cities and communities into places that value and support the well-being of every citizen, regardless of age.

Key Factors in Age-Friendly Communities

The development of age-friendly communities involves a variety of elements. From multi-stakeholder collaborations to government commitments and the inclusion of older persons, these factors play a crucial role in shaping age-friendly environments.

Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations

Multi-stakeholder collaborations, involving different sectors of society, are of utmost importance in the creation of age-friendly communities. These collaborations ensure that different perspectives are considered, and the needs of the older population are met in various aspects of community life. The Public Health Agency of Canada, for instance, developed the Pan-Canadian Age-Friendly Communities Milestones in collaboration with key partners to guide communities in applying the age-friendly model.

Government Commitment and Policies

Government commitment and policies form a foundation for the development of age-friendly communities. Governments can enact legislation and design policies that foster both physical and social environments conducive to the needs of older people. This includes creating policies that enhance outdoor spaces, transportation, housing, social participation, and more. The WHO Global Age-friendly Cities Guide provides a comprehensive list of core characteristics for an age-friendly city, which can guide government policy.

Inclusion of Older Persons

Inclusion of older persons is essential in the process of creating age-friendly communities. Their active involvement in decision-making processes ensures that their unique needs and perspectives are considered. The effectiveness of age-friendly initiatives should be measured through outcomes such as quality of life, social participation, and financial stability, which can be ensured through their active involvement.

Age-friendly communities, promoted by the World Health Organization, foster the development of active aging community initiatives. Key components, such as policies, services, and structures related to the physical and social environments of the communities, should be designed to be age-friendly, enabling aging adults to live safely, enjoy good health, and stay involved in their communities.

Global Perspective on Age-Friendly Communities

The transformation of cities into age-friendly communities is not just a local or national concern, but it has become a global priority. The increase in the aging population, the establishment of global networks, and the emphasis on healthy aging, all contribute to the worldwide focus on age-friendly environments.

WHO Global Network Overview

The World Health Organization (WHO) established the Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities in 2010. As of now, this network includes 1542 cities and communities in 51 countries, covering over 320 million people worldwide. This network promotes the exchange of experiences, learning, and evidence about age-friendly environments worldwide.

The WHO also developed the Global Age-Friendly Cities Project in 2006 to support healthy aging. This initiative identified eight key domains of community life where communities can become more age-friendly.

Aging Population Growth Trends

The aging population is rapidly increasing worldwide. By 2050, the global population of people over the age of 60 years is expected to reach almost two billion. This demographic shift makes the development of age-friendly communities a global priority.

While age-friendly initiatives mainly occur in the developed world, the need for such initiatives is universal due to the global nature of population aging.

A Global Priority: Healthy Aging

Healthy aging has become a global priority. With the adoption of the first Global strategy and action plan on ageing and health (2016 – 2020), WHO's 194 Member States aligned their responses to population aging with the Sustainable Development Goals. Creating age-friendly environments is one of the five strategic objectives of this Global Strategy [4].

Age-friendly environments aim to ensure that policies, services, and products meet the needs of older persons. They are designed to promote active aging by optimizing opportunities for good health, participation, and security as people age.

The global perspective on age-friendly communities underscores the importance of collaborative efforts to address the needs and preferences of older people. By fostering such environments, we can ensure that our cities and communities are equipped to support the health and well-being of their aging populations.

Implementing Age-Friendly Initiatives

Implementing age-friendly initiatives is key to transforming cities and communities into environments that foster healthy aging. These initiatives aim to create inclusive and accessible environments that promote active aging. They encompass various domains, from housing and transportation to social participation and health services.

WHO's Age-Friendly Cities Project

The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the Global Age-Friendly Cities Project in 2006. This project aims to encourage cities worldwide to become more age-friendly by addressing eight key domains of community life. These domains include outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community support and health services.

As of now, the WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities includes 1542 cities and communities in 51 countries, covering over 320 million people worldwide [1].

Pan-Canadian Milestones

In Canada, four cities, Saanich (BC), Portage la Prairie (MB), Sherbrooke (QC), and Halifax (NS), participated in the WHO Global Age-Friendly Cities Project [3]. Their participation in this global project highlights the country's commitment to fostering age-friendly environments.

In total, there are ten provinces and one territory in Canada currently promoting age-friendly community initiatives, each having its own website to provide information on the initiatives being undertaken [3].

Age-Friendly Rural Communities Initiative

In 2007, the Federal, Provincial, Territorial Age-Friendly Rural and Remote Communities Initiative focused on communities with populations under 5,000. This initiative involved ten communities across eight provinces and led to the endorsement of the report "Age-Friendly Rural and Remote Communities: A Guide" by the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors.

This initiative underscores the importance of creating age-friendly environments not just in urban settings but also in rural and remote communities. It recognizes that the needs and challenges of older persons in these areas can be distinct, requiring tailored solutions and approaches.

By implementing age-friendly initiatives across various settings, communities can better accommodate the needs of their aging populations and foster environments that promote healthy and active aging.

Age-Friendly Community Characteristics

Unraveling the characteristics of age-friendly communities requires a close examination of various factors impacting health disparities, the core characteristics of age-friendly cities, and the domains of community life.

Factors Impacting Health Disparities

A study conducted by NCBI identified six factors associated with demographic and health characteristics in age-friendly communities: Access to Business and Leisure, Social Interaction, Access to Health Care, Neighborhood Problems, Social Support, and Community Engagement.

Factor Description
Access to Business and Leisure Availability of facilities for commerce and recreation
Social Interaction Opportunities for meaningful social connections
Access to Health Care Proximity and availability of medical services
Neighborhood Problems Common issues faced within the community
Social Support Availability of emotional or practical support systems
Community Engagement Opportunities for active involvement in community matters

The study further revealed varying experiences across demographic lines. For instance, women reported more social interaction and more neighborhood problems than men. African Americans reported more social interaction and social support, but fewer neighborhood problems than those in the White/Other racial category. Those with some college education or higher reported more community engagement.

Core Characteristics of Age-Friendly Cities

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified eight core characteristics of age-friendly cities, based on focus groups with older people, caregivers, and service providers in 33 cities across 22 countries. These areas include outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community support and health services.

Core Characteristic Description
Outdoor Spaces and Buildings Availability and accessibility of outdoor spaces and public buildings
Transportation Accessible and safe modes of public and private transportation
Housing Affordability and accessibility of housing
Social Participation Opportunities for social activities
Respect and Social Inclusion Attitudes of respect and inclusion by younger generations
Civic Participation and Employment Opportunities for civic engagement and non-discriminatory employment
Communication and Information Access to communications technology and regular and reliable information
Community Support and Health Services Access to homecare services, clinics, and programs to promote wellness and active aging

Domains of Community Life

The WHO also outlined the eight domains of community life that influence the health and quality of life of older people. These domains are essentially the same as the core characteristics listed above and are critical aspects of age-friendly cities. They serve as a blueprint for communities looking to adapt their environments to become more age-friendly.

Understanding and implementing these characteristics and domains can help transform cities and communities into more age-friendly environments, promoting active aging and enhancing the quality of life for older residents.

Promoting Age-Friendly Environments

Creating age-friendly communities is a multifaceted process that involves a combination of various strategies. This includes the use of technology, continuous evaluation of initiatives, and the active involvement of older adults.

Role of Technology

In the age of digital innovation, technology is playing a pivotal role in transforming cities into age-friendly spaces. Smart home technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) are being leveraged to address the challenges of urban aging [5].

Smart home technology, for instance, can support independent living, health monitoring, and emergency response systems for older adults. By integrating these technologies into everyday living, older adults can enjoy greater independence and safety in their homes. Furthermore, the IoT can facilitate real-time monitoring and management of health conditions, enhancing the quality of life for older adults.

Evaluating Age-Friendly Initiatives

The implementation of age-friendly initiatives in cities necessitates continuous evaluation. This involves regular assessment of the eight domains of an age-friendly city, as identified by the World Health Organization. These domains focus on outdoor spaces, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community and health services.

The effectiveness of age-friendly initiatives should be gauged through outcomes such as improved quality of life, increased social participation, and financial stability among older adults. Regular audits and evaluations can help to identify areas of improvement and ensure that the initiatives are meeting their intended objectives.

Active Involvement of Older Adults

For communities to truly be age-friendly, the active involvement of older adults in the decision-making process is crucial. Older adults bring a wealth of experience and unique perspectives that can enrich community development initiatives. Moreover, their involvement can ensure that the initiatives are tailored to meet their specific needs and preferences.

Age-friendly communities allow people of all ages to participate in activities that keep the community healthy and encourage economic stability. They are places where older persons can stay connected with others, remain independent, and receive the necessary support to age successfully [7].

Promoting age-friendly environments involves a collective effort from multiple stakeholders, including government bodies, healthcare providers, community organizations, and most importantly, the older adults themselves. By working together, we can create communities that are inclusive, accessible, and supportive of individuals of all ages.

References

[1]: https://extranet.who.int/agefriendlyworld/who-network/

[2]: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264275115000190

[3]: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/aging-seniors/friendly-communities.html

[4]: https://extranet.who.int/agefriendlyworld/age-friendly-cities-framework/

[5]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6266083/

[6]: https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-017-4392-7

[7]: https://vantageaging.org/blog/age-friendly-community/

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