What is this “age-friendly” craze all about?
“Age-friendly” communities, “age-friendly” health care, “age-friendly” homes and businesses – the term seems to be popping up everywhere, but what exactly does it mean? More importantly, why should it matter?
BY KATHY BLACK
In response to an aging world in which two persons turn 65 every second, the World Health Organization coined the phrase “Age-friendly communities” in 2005 after initiating a global network that aims to enhance active, healthy and engaged living for persons at all life stages and abilities across the life course. Today, more than 600 communities worldwide have joined the network including more than 250 in the United States. In America, the movement has been bolstered by AARP in alignment with their Livable Communities initiative which also focuses on enhancing community features that enable people to fully participate in social, civic and economic life at any age.
“This is a country where it is wonderful to be young. It must also become a country where it is wonderful to be old.”
Ethel Percy Andrus – Founder of AARP
Becoming a global age-friendly community requires a five-year commitment by municipalities to assess and plan for the needs and preferences of their aging residents to create, implement and evaluate an action plan designed to make a difference. The process engages multiple sectors (including nonprofits and business) along with community groups and residents alike to consider features of the built, social and service environments such as transportation, civic participation and community supports which impact our ability to age well with dignity throughout our lives.
Efforts can make a big difference; consider for example that we outlive our safe driving abilities by seven to ten years and that the majority of us live in auto-dependent suburban settings. Expanding transportation options that consider accessible and adaptive needs – such as ride-sharing services, help for door-to-door service or a wheelchair ramp or storage capacity for a walker can better enable us to get where we need or want to go.
In addition to community features, many other organizations have recognized explicit roles in better serving an increasing aging clientele. Today, age-friendly healthcare organizations are focusing on what matters most to older patients along with special attention to medication, mobility and mental activities which have been shown to improve the outcomes and experience during an inpatient stay. Age-friendly homes are incorporating elements of universal design such as using a lever instead of a doorknob for easier room access for persons of all ages. Age-friendly businesses are focused on respectful interaction throughout the older customer experience as well as accommodating physical space with enhanced lighting and seating and communication via larger font sizes. It turns out that small, and in many cases, no cost changes canake a big difference.
Visit the links below to learn more about advancing our collective age-friendly future!
About the Author – Kathy Black
Kathy Black is a Professor at the University of South Florida, a Next Avenue Top 50 National Influencer in Aging, a Hartford Geriatric Faculty Scholar, and lead Advisor for Age-Friendly Sarasota.