Written by Stannah 20-12-2017

Age-friendly cities: What will they mean for seniors in the future?

How can governments make cities more age-friendly to cater to the needs of their aging populations?

age-friendly-cities

 

We all know that the population of the world is aging, that baby boomers are reaching their senior years and living longer than any generation ever has. This is great news for all of us around today, as we know that we still have long lives ahead of us, increased by advances in both medicine and technology. However, these changes don’t just affect us as individuals, they also have a larger impact on our societies. We need to start thinking about how our communities cater to this older population, and how we can make sure that the extended lifespans we are starting to see today are used to their fullest extent: that the lives the elderly continue to live are fulfilling and active.

For this reason, the WHO (World Health Organization) has come up with a Policy Framework on Active Aging, which details ways in which eight different aspects of urban life can be improved to cater for older citizens.

Important factors to consider when planning for an age-friendly city

Table of contents

Senior living communities, or communities for all?
Safety in the City
Accessibility in the City
Safety in the Home
Combatting isolation amongst seniors
Involving senior citizens in these changes
Creating the possibility to Age in Place

Senior living communities, or communities for all?

Communities for all ages

It´s all very well to encourage seniors to be active, but what is more important is to create environments in which seniors CAN be active and in which they feel they can safely and confidently navigate their local area. This is the problem we are faced with today, that instead of being hubs where seniors can find everything they need, cities are causing older citizens to become isolated within their homes due to the lack of resources they need to be able to get around safely. With the number of seniors increasing at a staggering rate, these problems need to be tackled to ensure that our elderly loved ones can continue aging in the cities they have always called home. This process is called “active aging”, and we at Stannah know how important it is that the older generation have the resources they need to be able to do this comfortably and safely.

This is where age-friendly cities come in, cities that accommodate all their citizens, ranging from the youngest to the oldest. The youngest members of society need good, accessible schools, safe places to play and good health services; whereas the elderly need accessible, safe public services and structures to be able to carry on leading healthy, active, social, lives in their communities. But what does this actually mean?

Safety in the City

Well-lit streets

First, safety in the city must be improved, to keep citizens protected from crime and natural disasters. This includes more streetlights being introduced, as well as more police patrols and community support. Instead of having to worry about finding their way to the other side of an urban sprawl to be able to buy necessities, services will be clustered in areas where elderly people live, so that they never have to go far to buy their groceries. Age-friendly cities also mean access to all buildings for the elderly and for people with disabilities. Accessibility can be improved through elevators, escalators and railings, meaning that they can get to all the places they need to go without having to worry about stairs or other features which may be dangerous. Knowing that the places they need to go will be accessible will lead to less stress and worry when it comes to leaving the house, and easier integration into a community.

Accessibility in the City

Safer crossings

Accessibility in the city can take many forms. It means that instead of being worried about going into the center of the city because of a lack of public restrooms, our elderly loved ones will be free to enjoy their surroundings, safe in the knowledge that there are enough accessible restrooms to meet their needs. It also means enough seating along roads so that they can rest if they need to, smooth, wide walkways that provide easy access to everywhere they want to go, and pavements with no obstructions and tapered edges. They will no longer need to worry about crossing roads as crossings will be made safer by non-slip paving, well-placed physical structures and, most importantly, longer crossing times, meaning that rushing across the road, risking injury will be a thing of the past.

As people age, they can no longer walk as far as they once could, so they resort to driving to get to where they need to go. However, there comes a point where it is no longer safe to drive. But then how do they get around? They need good, affordable, reliable public transport that they feel safe using. This means good transport links to all areas of a city, and enough services that the transport remains comfortable to use, which means no overcrowding, and respect for priority seating. The services also need to be accessible, especially for those with reduced mobility; meaning that all transport must have floors that lower, low steps and wide seats. Transport is especially important when it comes to the elderly getting to places like hospitals, health centers, public parks, shopping centers, banks and senior centers, but extends to other cities and suburbs of a city, so that they can always get to where they need to go. All parts of the transport system need to work so that senior citizens feel confident that they know where they are going and how to get there. This confidence starts with clear information, from timetables to prices and transport being labelled clearly, with clearly visible numbers and destinations, meaning that catching a bus is a stress-free solution.

In addition to public transport, senior citizens have access to taxis, and although this might seem like an expensive option at first, age-friendly cities will offer discounts or subsidized taxi fares for older people with low incomes. There are many ways of making a door to door journey cheaper and more comfortable, and one of them is ‘Uber’, a cheaper alternative to a taxi, made easy by an app where you can track your driver before they arrive. You can even request a bigger car! The not-so-distant-future also looks like it might hold a very viable option for seniors: driverless cars! These gadgets, which are being developed by all the big car manufacturers, could offer senior citizens who can no longer drive the perfect solution to get around easily. We know the idea of a car with no driver seems very strange, but driverless cars could make the roads safer overall and reduce accidents. For those who still feel comfortable driving, priority parking bays will provide easy access to buildings and transport stops, meaning that the distance the elderly need to walk is decreased.

Safety in the Home

Home modifications to help seniors

Age-friendly cities will also improve living conditions for the elderly in their own homes. Affordable housing will be made available for all older people, and this housing will be well-structured and adapted for older people. This means that the whole house will be safe and comfortable for anyone to use, with even floors, wide corridors and appropriately designed bathrooms and kitchens. Making a house safe and comfortable means that its residents can get to every part of it without having to worry. This includes upstairs, and since knee pain is one of the most common problems we have as we age, the stairs can become more and more of a challenge. For this reason, it is important to consider mobility aids, so that no areas of the house are off-limits, and falls can be prevented. We at Stannah recommend a stairlift to those who have difficulties navigating stairs, and you can read more about the benefits of a stairlift in our article on knee-pain. Click here to find out more about safety at home for your elderly loved ones.

Combatting isolation amongst seniors

Combatting isolation amongst elders

An age-friendly city is much more than just an accessible city. It is a community that provides services for its entire population, integrating each and every citizen and combatting isolation. According to MC Master, isolation itself is a health risk, and the loneliness that comes with it could be detrimental to senior health. For this reason, it is important to tackle senior loneliness, and integrate seniors into the community. For more information about loneliness amongst seniors, take a look at our blog post from Elder Abuse Day.

There are many ways that seniors can combat loneliness on their own, for example joining a club or starting a new hobby. A great example of this is yoga. Read more about this great form of exercise and how it benefits both the body and mind here. There are also many other events and activities that can help to foster a community of like-minded people, who share common interests. Age-friendly cities promise events and activities that are at convenient times of day for the elderly, and made accessible by public transport and that are in convenient, accessible locations, so that anyone who wants to take part, can. These activities may present opportunities for seniors to share their knowledge, to take part in the community and for their life experience to be utilized.

However, for some it is not easy to leave their comfort zones and motivate themselves to get involved in the community. For this reason, one of the proposals for age-friendly communities is that volunteer callers and visitors and integral parts of the community. This can take many forms, and individuals like hairdressers, doormen or caretakers can help these senior citizens, who may be at risk of isolation, better integrate with their community. Having trusted individuals look out for the elderly might be that missing link in making sure everyone has the human connections they need.

Involving senior citizens in these changes

Getting elders involved in making changes

As more cities recognize the importance of creating age-friendly environments, the ways in which they go about improving their services and changing the city are very important. The WHO highlights the importance of involving the elderly in the process of improving the city, and explains the benefits of doing this. Using elders’ experience and knowledge in this project allows governments to help those who need it, by listening to their needs. Part of an age-friendly community is recognizing the skills and abilities of the elderly and recognizing all that seniors can offer a community. In empowering the older generation to effect change in their environment, the health and social decline experienced by many elderly people could be lessened and a more age-friendly living environment promoted. By engaging seniors in this global project, their voices can be heard all around the world, and the changes that they need can be implemented to improve their quality of life and change dynamics for future generations.

Creating the possibility to age in place

Aging in place

All of the initiatives for an age-friendly city lead to the possibility of seniors aging in place, rather than going to live in an assisted living facility or nursing home. It’s a goal that is becoming more and more important to our aging population. If you want to find out more about aging in place read our article here.

Four Canadian cities took part in the WHO’s Global Age-Friendly Cities Project, Saanich (BC), Portage la Prairie (MB), Sherbrooke (QC), and Halifax (NS). As a result of the success of implementing changes to these cities, a report was also drawn up for rural and remote communities. By spreading the idea of creating age-friendly communities all over the country, both in cities and in rural areas, the Canadian government is ensuring that wherever the elderly choose to live, they will be able to do so in full comfort and safety.

These plans all look very promising, but changing a city takes a long time, and although a lot of plans are in motion, seniors won’t start feeling the benefits of these new schemes for a while yet. Let’s hope more and more cities become aware of age-friendly initiatives that could help them cater to their citizens better! For now, we are pleased to announce that the city of Brantford (ON) has officially been recognised by the WHO as an age-friendly city! The city was congratulated for its community-based initiatives such as the Neighbourhood Hubs program, Healthy Brantford, Safe Brantford, and the Digital Inclusion Strategy. We, for one, are very excited about the example Brantford has set, and how hard the city council has worked to make the city more livable for everyone!