The general population in Canada, and around the globe, is aging at a rapid rate and it is estimated that by the year 2050 almost a quarter of the world’s population will be over 60 years old. This shift in population demographics has sparked the trend of creating age friendly communities for older adults.
What does Age Friendly Community mean?
An age friendly community is one that takes into account the growing needs of seniors, and accommodates those needs with effective services, features, and benefits. The goal is to assist seniors in the pursuit in living a healthy, active, and independent lifestyle, while aging in the comfort of home. The vast majority of older adults these days are choosing to age in place, and age friendly communities can help facilitate that ambition.
The World Health Organization (WHO) began developing a Global Age Friendly Cities Project in 2006. This project was designed to assess the capacity for individual cities to provide the means for older adults to live a healthy and active lifestyle.
What are the features of an Age Friendly Community?
Some of the parameters that were examined to determine benefits and accessibility for seniors, include:
- Outdoor spaces and buildings
- Social participation, support, and inclusion
- Employment and volunteer opportunities
- Communication and information access
- Health services
One of the most important aspects of creating an age friendly community is making affordable and accessible housing available for seniors. As previously mentioned, older adults are looking to remain in their own homes and communities they are familiar with while they age. In order to make this happen, existing homes may need to be modified, and newly built homes should be designed for universal accessibility. Features of accessible housing include things like:
- Wide doorways to accommodate mobility devices
- Curbless showers with transfer bench
- Grab bars and railings
- Entrance ramps
- Wide walkways
- Maintenance services
Affordability is an essential component of the project to make it accessible to as many as seniors as possible. This refers to not only rent and living expenses, but also to home modification costs and maintenance and support services.
Access to reliable public transportation is required for many seniors to get to appointments, events, and to run errands. Many older adults are not able or interested in driving, and need a viable alternative for getting around. Many cities also offer transportation options specifically for seniors.
Transportation services should be affordable for older adults, and most cities provide a discounted rate for people over 65. Also, public transportation services should be mobility device accessible and offer priority seating for seniors.
Outdoor Spaces and Buildings
This section involves city services that are beneficial for seniors and offer a better quality of life for all city inhabitants. This includes features, like:
- Well maintained public parks and green spaces with ample walkways, washrooms, and seating options
- Well maintained sidewalks and walkways to accommodate wheelchair mobility with minimal cracks and potholes
- Good lighting and police patrol for maximum safety
- All public buildings should be universally accessible
Social Participation, Support, and Inclusion
Including seniors as part of the community is important to help prevent social isolation. If seniors live in a community that they do not identified with, and feel excluded from, it has a negative impact on quality of life and overall health. This includes things like:
- Staff in public facilities trained to deal with customers with hearing, visual, and mobility impairments
- Positive image and depiction of seniors in society
- Intergenerational events to encourage family interaction
- Education and training for technological proficiency and other skills
Employment and Volunteer
One of the most effective ways to feel like part of the community is to be actively involved in it. Many seniors choose to use their free time for volunteer work, and many others need some type of employment to get the income they need to live comfortably.
Community programs to match seniors with appropriate volunteer work based on skills, experience, and interests are a very useful service. There should also be options and employment agencies that work specifically with seniors to provide employment opportunities and training.
Communication and Information Access
With more and more services becoming automated, seniors need a way to stay on top of the technology used in everyday life. This can include free training and information sessions, as well as access to community information and basic broadcast media.
Instructions should be laid out in plain easy to follow language, and public internet access should available in public libraries and community centres.
Since the public health care system does very little to cater to seniors, local community services can make all the difference for older adults that wish to continue living an independent lifestyle while remaining at home. Local home care agencies offer excellent service and support for a wide range of needs, from assisting with daily living, to managing chronic health conditions.