The Movement for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities: What is it and where did it begin?

As people and populations age, more and more responsibility has been placed on older adults to optimize their health and well-being through life style choices including exercise, nutrition, tobacco session and weight maintenance. Good advice, but it focuses the ‘blame’ for the’ costs of aging’ on individuals. Too often the responsibility of governments and communities to create social and physical environments that allow optimal aging is neglected.

Population aging raises many questions for policy makers on how to provide for the needs of the aging population and older individuals. In 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) published Active Aging: A Policy Framework where they defined active aging as “ the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance the quality of life as people age.” This concept informed the Second United Nations World Assembly on Ageing held in Madrid Spain that was attended by over 150 countries worldwide. At this assembly, Governments from around the world adopted an International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002, to respond to the opportunities and challenges of population ageing and to promote a society for all ages. In Canada this led to Special Senate Committee on Aging report titled Canada’s Aging Population: Seizing the Opportunity (2009) which was followed by a Government of Canada response.

In 2006 the World Health Organization (WHO) introduced the concept of age-friendly cities to refer to “an inclusive and accessible urban environment that promotes active ageing”.   Age-friendliness is defined in terms of a eight domains of life that span the physical and social environment including outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, communication and information, respect and social inclusion, community support and health services and opportunities for social participation, civic participation and employment. 33 cities from 22 countries world-wide, including 4 from Canada, took up the challenge   to become age-friendly in phase one of the WHO age-friendly cities project. More recently the initiative has been renamed to become age-friendly cities and communities to be inclusive of smaller and rural communities. Public Health Canada has played a leadership role in supporting the age-friendly communities initiative in Canada and   hundreds of Canadian communities are now engaged in age-friendly planning including about 50 in Ontario. The Ontario Seniors Secretariat has published a resource guide to help communities become age-friendly titled Finding the Right Fit Age-Friendly Community Planning that can be found on their website. Municipalities can apply to become part of the WHO Global Age-friendly Cities and Communities Network if they commit to a three step stage process of planning, implementation and evaluation.

The Hamilton Council on Aging began their work to making Hamilton age-friendly in 2008 speaking with older adults across the City of Hamilton on the barriers to age-friendliness in their community and making 92 recommendations to address these barrier . See Hamilton a City for ALL Ages and Hamilton a City for ALL Ages: Three Years On; both reports are available on the HCoA web page. The WHO suggests that the route to an age-friendly community is through the development and implementation of a community wide action plan. The Hamilton Council on Aging and its community partners are currently working with the City of Hamilton on the development of an age-friendly action plan. We are in the process of consulting with older adults across Hamilton as well as key stakeholders in the various domains to ensure that we come up with a set of workable recommendations. A copy of this plan will be available on our website early next fall.

Dr. Margaret Denton is a Professor of Health, Aging & Society at McMaster University and a founding Board Member and Past President of the Hamilton Council on Aging.

Welcome to HCoA

HamiltonCouncil on Aging (HCoA) decided that now is the right time to inaugurate a blog. As president, I want to be first to post on this blog and welcome you to the blog.

HCoA is about seven years old and during that time our projects have enhanced the lives of many seniors. HCoA exists to educate, advocate and improve the life for older adults through a collaborative network of individuals and organizations. A key role for HCoA is to collaborate and create partnerships within the community. Seniors’ engagement is a broad goal of HCoA. We value the participation of older adults and rely heavily on the time and expertise given by older adults in all that we do.

Here are some of the ways in which we are involved:

·        Working in partnership with the City of Hamilton in developing The Older Adult Plan towards establishing Hamilton as an age-friendly city. Focus groups are planned to meet in April and May to obtain public input.

·        Let’s Take the Bus providing information in an effort to increase opportunity for participation and to decrease isolation. An interpreter assists at the workshops in providing translation to the ethnic group in attendance at the workshop.

·        The Committee for Prevention of Abuse of Older Adults a part of the Health and Wellness Expo “Steps to Aging Healthy” on June 23, 2014.

·        Through our Improving Access for Seniors from Diverse Communities programme facilitating workshops for service providers to increase their capacity to serve diverse cultures. Also, working along with CityHousing Hamilton to increase knowledge of and ability to navigate the system of programs and services available to them.

·        Improving Access to Information for Individuals 55+ in Dundas – working with various community partners to develop and install information kiosks in key places throughout Dundas such as the Dundas Public Library. As soon as funding is in place, we will hear more about this project.

·        Let’s Take a Walk project – 35+ senior volunteers set to participate in age-friendly audits of approximately 18 of Hamilton’s Recreational Trails.

I have told you some highlights of our activities that are in progress now. We want to hear from you. You may want to post to this blog (if so, write to us at hcoablog@mail.com). If you would like more information, please check out our website at www.coahamilton.ca.

Mae Radford

President, HCoA

Prior to retirement, Mae was a member of the Senior Leadership Team at VON Hamilton with responsibilities for Community Support Services with a team of 1600 volunteers. Presently, in addition to serving as President of HCoA, Mae is a community leader as Governor on the Joseph Brant Hospital Board, Past President of the Rotary Burlington Music Festival, Past President of the Rotary Club of Burlington Central and member of the Wellness Committee at the church she attends. Mae is a Registered Nurse.