What is Age Friendly?
Age Friendly planning is an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) that encourages communities to better meet the needs of aging, by supporting independence, health and active living.
The greatest achievement of the 20th century is the combination of the modern medicine, sound public health practices and knowledge of healthy lifestyles which resulted in the quickest and most significant increase in life expectancy than during any other period in human history. We are so fortunate to live in the era we do, when the opportunity for a full long life is within reach of so many. However, this change creates a set of challenges which must be addressed if we are to be able to live our later years with health and independence.
Age Friendly aims to create an aging friendly environment, not an aged one. Age Friendly communities help and encourage people to be active at all stages of aging, through accessible infrastructure and, inclusive and respectful policies and social interactions.
Embracing Age Friendly policies can have a significant impact by:
- Helping people remain physically and socially active,
- Helping people find and get services,
- Preventing the early on-set of age related health issues and diseases (and the health care costs that come with them!),
- Decreasing isolation,
- Reducing dependency on family and social services to meet simple day to day needs (and the costs to social,
- Improve independence and overall quality of life.
Every community is unique, with its own specific needs and strengths, therefore Age Friendly guidelines leave local stakeholders with the responsibility to set and review its own goals and objectives to improve the community.
Throughout 2014, Age Friendly Chatham-Kent began the conversation. 725 residents over the age of 50 and representing every urban centre and rural area of the Municipality took part. These men and women provided their opinions, criticisms and suggestions to researchers regarding a range of issues including: Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, Transportation, Housing, Social Participation, Civic Engagement, Communication and Information, Respect and Social Inclusion, and Community Supports and Health Services.
This feedback was then studied by expert panels, each responsible for one of the issues – or Age Friendly domains – in the list above. Panels were staffed by representatives of Municipal government, private business, social service agencies, not for profits, volunteer seniors and retirees, as well as representatives of the CK Senior Advisory Committee. They were instructed to evaluate the public input and draft broad goals they felt directly addressed these needs this input identified, and a number of specific recommendations that would accomplish one of more of the goals. Their recommendations encourage a tri-sector approach to addressing the challenges of an aging population and do not rely solely on government to solve.
Age Friendly Chatham-Kent does not pretend to have all the answers, nor should anyone expect the recommendations in the plan to be magic bullets that will be applicable in every community and neighbourhood, and work for every person and scenario. Individuals and society are too diverse and complex for easy answers. The panels merely present options which members believe will help a large number of people in community.
Chatham-Kent, this is your action plan and more importantly your challenge. Everyone is encouraged to read the plan, look for ways to contribute to implementing it, and ask yourself, your employer, your business, church and volunteer group: “How can we help, what can we do to achieve the goal of making this community more Age Friendly, for myself, my family and my neighbours.”
Get involved! Download a copy of the plan from the link at the top of the page.
But Won’t this be Expensive?
Granted, becoming Age Friendly won’t be free. However, as this is a long term challenge it does not need to be solved by next week of even next year. Although at present we live in difficult economic times, it won’t always be that way. The need to become age friendly will be there as the economy fluctuates through its inevitable ups and downs. Age Friendly will often find itself seeking attention against whatever the crisis or priority of the moment happens to be. This Action Plan is but the first step. It is designed to be reviewed on a regulalr basis and updated to meet our needs as they change. Age Friendly is really more of a mindset than a one time checklist of wants and needs. Therefore, meeting the challenges posed by aging population will be with us for the rest of the century, we are under no pressure to achieve all our goals right away.
Obviously, the most significant Age Friendly financial costs will most likely be related to public infrastructure. However modifying existing structures can be implemented over the normal life cycle. In time, sidewalks, buildings and all other man made infrastructure need to be renovated or replaced. Age Friendly designs can be made at that time, when it will cost little to accommodate these elements when the structure is being replaced anyway.
There are many ways to lessen the overall financial impact. Indeed, there are many age friendly changes that cost little or no money at all.
Incremental change can make a huge difference in the daily life of the average person. Changes can be as simple as altering the way in which you do something rather than build something.
For example, stores can:
- change their lighting for people with vision problems,
- increase the font size on signage,
- place products at easy to reach levels on the shelf,
- offer delivery services so people with mobility issues can get groceries and other daily supplies,
- make aisles wider and doors easier to open,
- lower the volume of background music and,
- train staff to understand the needs and deal more patiently with older clients.
What is more, none of those changes would benefit just older adults but people also:
- pregnant women
- parents with children in strollers
- anyone of any age with vision, hearing or mobility limitations
- anyone of any age who is recovering from illness, injury or surgery.