Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Age friendly communities
The World Health Organization (WHO) began an Age-friendly initiatives and studies in 2007, so I want to review what is happening in my home province of B.C. The WHO studies provided a consistent description of the key features that make a community age-friendly.
1.Age-friendly are places where ALL ages can live and age actively because they provide:
a. Outdoor spaces and public buildings that are pleasant, secure and physically accessible.
b. Public transportation that is accessible and affordable.
c. Housing that is affordable, secure, well located, designed, and built.
2.Older people have opportunities for social participation in leisure, social, cultural, and spiritual activities.
3.Older people are treated with respect and are included in civic life.
4.Opportunities for employment & volunteerism cater to older peoples’ interests and abilities.
5.Age-friendly communication and information is available.
6 Community support and health services tailored to older peoples’ needs
Many communities realize demographics in their community are changing. Some of the media reports would have us believe this trend is scary. The age-friendly concept presents an opportunity for communities to deal positively with the change, and to improve communities for ALL ages.
Seniors are leading efforts to make sure their communities work for all stages of life –And the most successful efforts are based on finding out from fellow seniors what is working, what isn’t and what changes are needed. The success of any age-friendly initiative depends on a person or group who is passionate about the idea and will lead it through.
Success also comes from collaborative efforts between community members/groups and local government commitment and action.
So what is an age-friendly community?
It is the kind of place where we all want to live, no matter our age. A simple definition is a community that supports and enables older people to “age actively” – to live in security, enjoy good health & participate fully in society.
An age-friendly community is a community for all ages, but there are important reasons for communities to become more accessible and amenable to older people.
The biggest reason for this is well known - there are more elder people in our communities today, and the elder population is growing. Within the next decade, there will be more seniors in B.C. than children. This is a sign of success – we are healthier, living longer and living lives that are more active.
Less well known is the fact that in BC, our aging population is challenging traditional stereotypes:
· Most seniors live in their own homes; about 25% live alone
· Almost 1 in 10 don’t speak English
· Most seniors – almost 70% – are still licensed drivers
· Some are still in the workforce and that number is steadily increasing
Seniors are not all one group – a 60-year-old will probably have very different needs from a 90-year-old. Seniors are assets to our communities, with a wealth of knowledge and experience to share.
There are great opportunities for communities and businesses who reach out and support older people... and make sure they remain connected to their communities. One of the ways this can be done is through transit.
A great deal of transit is focused upon getting people to work. Public transport must also easily reach hospitals, health centres, public parks, shopping centres, banks, and senior centres.
Key considerations in planning transit in smaller, rural communities is the availability of public transit. Where it is not available, many communities have created programs with voluntary drivers of vans, and buses. Often this kind of transport is subsidized by the government. There are also programs where vans and smaller buses will take older persons to larger centres for health services.
Over 120 communities around BC have completed one or more age-friendly projects. The variety of projects is huge- and you probably already know about many more.
· ·Abbotsford: Getting Around Town - scooter safety initiative – booklet with safety tips.
· Sunshine Coast Regional District / Sechelt: bus stop improvements – light switches, accessibility.
· Saanich: Cordova Bay Community Place community program space for seniors housed within an elementary school. Won a Union of British Columbia Municipalities community excellence award in 2006.
· Revelstoke: installed grit boxes so individuals can deal with icy conditions; the city refills the boxes as part of the regular street maintenance.
· Port Hardy: Added accessible shower heads for each locker room at the Recreation Centre and a handicapped washroom; a ramp to enter the building; bought extendable curling sticks at curling club.
· Comox: Added an Age-friendly chapter in their Official Community Plan
The Province provided direct consulting support to 30 communities between 2007 to 2010, and the consulting team produced an evaluation of their experience in December 2010. That study found a number of factors that contributed to success in communities.
· Strong support of local government – local government is not the only partner...but it is central. When the Mayor and Council or Directors are behind local efforts, and there is public support for an age-friendly community, you are well on your way.
· Local champions, dedicated staff persons – government can’t promote this alone... need people at the ground level who are paying attention to age-friendly, and actually have it as part of their job
· Strong local partnerships that include seniors – COSCO motto – plan with seniors, not for seniors. This is not a surprise, but important to remember – local initiatives will miss the mark if they don’t include the very people they are trying to serve.
(Link for complete study: http://www.seniorsbc.ca/documents/pdf/afbc_evaluation_report.pdf)
The BC Seniors Healthy Living Secretariat has an age-friendly coordinator in place; they have put out a number of resources, which are available at the SeniorsBC website or in paper form.
The primary document is a local government guide, which outlines the steps communities can take. It is meant for local government staff and elected officials, but others can use it to get involved as well.
There is also a guide for business – Creating an Age-friendly Business in B.C. – to help businesses make changes to become more attractive to older adults as both customers and employees.
The Secretariat is also developing short videos to highlight successful age-friendly projects around the province, and those will be made available for communities to use when they want ideas for an age-friendly project.
All of these are available through the Secretariat’s Age-friendly Coordinator (email: agefriendlyBC@gov.bc.ca ).
Change only comes about through community action and by being politically active. There are many ways to do so:
· Join a senior’s organization in your community
· Pursue social activities with others
· Seek out people with similar interests (get involved in a club, church or other organization)