There are two ways to look at the impact of our aging population on the communities in
which we live:
1. An increased need for medical care and social services
2. The availability of more wisdom, more time and the people who have the desire
to leave the world a better place than when we entered
It turns out that studies show in supportive and enabling living environments, older
people are a resource for their families, communities and economies. This means less
of #1, above, and more of #2. In a radio interview, Dr. Alice Bonner, the Secretary of the
Massachusetts Office of Elder Affairs talked about the 8 pillars of an age friendly
community. You can hear the entire interview at this link, WSKB_Bonner, starting 13
minutes into the video. A quick Google search showed that there is a lot available on
the topic of Age Friendly Communities (AFC’s). What follows is a summary of some of
the foundational work done by the World Health Organization (WHO) and others.
The world is rapidly ageing. The number of people aged 60 and over as a proportion of
the global population will double from 11% in 2006 to 22% by 2050. By then, there will be
more older people than children (aged 0–14 years) in the population for the first time in
human history. Developing countries, such as the USA, are ageing at a much faster rate
than developed countries. Within five decades, just over 80% of the world’s older people
will be living in developing countries compared with 60% in 2005.
In 2006, the WHO launched its age-friendly communities initiative to promote a more
thoughtful approach to the development of communities that could promote the health
and wellbeing of people of all ages, and especially our aging population. An age-friendly
community, as they define it, is one that recognizes the great diversity amongst older
persons, promotes their inclusion and contributions in all areas of community life,
respects their decisions and lifestyle choices, and anticipates and responds flexibly to
aging-related needs and preferences. Essentially, they are places that encourage active
aging by optimizing opportunities for health, participation, and security in order to
enhance quality of life as people age.
Making our communities more age-friendly should be understood as a practical
response to promote the contributions and well-being of older residents who keep our
communities thriving. Adapted environments and services that are accessible to, and
inclusive of, older people with varying needs will further encourage them to engage
more frequently in community activities. Furthermore, creating a culture that respects
and includes older people as well will foster strong connections and personal
Because active ageing is a lifelong process, an age-friendly city is not just “elderly
friendly”. Barrier-free buildings and streets enhance the mobility and independence of
people with disabilities, young as well as old. Secure neighbourhoods allow children,
younger women and older people to venture outside in confidence to participate in
physically active leisure and in social activities. Families experience less stress when
their older members have the community support and health services they need. The
whole community benefits from the participation of older people in volunteer or paid
work. Finally, the local economy profits from the patronage of older adult consumers.
The operative word in age-friendly social and physical urban settings is enablement.
World Health Organization. (2007). Global Age friendly Cities: A Guide. Geneva, Switzerland.