Friday, April 22, 2016

What makes an age friendly community?

Today I will look at a report prepared for the Healthy Aging and Wellness Working Group of the Federal/ Provincial/ Territorial (F/P/T)   Committee of Officials (seniors) in 2006 that focuses on age friendly communities. This report examined in detail a great many areas, but I am only going to look at a few issues over the next few days. The report looked at the following issues:
·         Outdoor Spaces and Buildings
·         Transportation
·         Housing
·         Respect and Social Inclusion
·         Social Participation
·         Communication and Information
·         Civic Participation and Employment Opportunities
·         Community Support and Health Services

The physical environment, which consists of Outdoor spaces and Buildings, is an important determinant of physical and mental health for everyone. Creating supportive environments, including age-friendly outdoor spaces and building design, can enhance physical well-being and quality of life, accommodate individuality and independence, foster social interaction and enable people to conduct their daily activities.

Focus group results pointed to what seniors and caregivers identify as important aspects of outdoor spaces and buildings. Older adults and service providers in rural and remote communities expressed that “walkable” sidewalks, pathways and trails are very important for older persons, not only because they support safety and physical activity, but also because they enable older adults to get around and take care of their personal and social needs. Participants also identified the importance of having amenities within close proximity of each other. They identified a number of barriers, including a lack of sidewalks (or continuous sidewalks) in some communities, as well as the dangers of walking and using a scooter on busy streets and highways. Even in communities where sidewalks are common, some participants were concerned with the general state of disrepair and lack of maintenance for both sidewalks and trails.

In addition to the importance of walking for such practical purposes as running errands, walking as a form of physical activity has become increasingly common for older persons. Ensuring that paths, trails and walking routes are supported with sufficient washrooms and rest areas (especially benches) makes these areas more usable by seniors.

Seasonal conditions vary throughout the year and clearly have an impact on the “walkability” of communities. Quick and responsive snow-cleaning is appreciated by seniors, although snow clearing can sometimes lead to other problems. For example, snowploughs tend to heap snow along the roadsides which, as several participants noted, can make it difficult for older persons to open car doors blocked by snowbanks.

Buildings with few steps, push-button doors and wheelchair ramps are important for accessibility by all seniors. Aging buildings, however, are often cited as having accessibility problems.  More than one participant noted, for example, that older church buildings sometimes have washrooms in the basement, creating a problem for seniors with mobility challenges. In fact, inaccessible washrooms or toilet stalls, stairs and heavy doors were mentioned repeatedly as challenging for older persons.

Overall, the focus group participants expressed that they feel safe and secure in their communities and reported that there is very little crime in their communities. Seniors’ safety and security concerns tend to relate more to worrying about potential accidents, including the fear of falling, which is seen as a limitation to independence and mobility. Similarly, sidewalks or streets that are slippery or have potholes are seen as hazards that make walking unsafe for older adults.

Summary of Key Findings
Results of focus group discussions point to the following highlights with respect to what seniors and caregivers see as important issues and opportunities when it comes to planning for age-friendly outdoor spaces and buildings:

Age-friendly features include:
·       Walkable sidewalks, pathways and trails
·       The condition of pavements has an obvious impact on the ability to walk in the local area. Pavements that are narrow, uneven, cracked, have high curbs, are congested or have obstructions present potential hazards and affect the ability of older people to walk around. 
·       ·Having green spaces is one the most commonly mentioned age-friendly features. 
·       Good accessibility to and within public buildings (e.g., few stairs, wheelchair ramps that are not too steep, accessible washrooms)
·       Along footpaths, accessible washrooms (e.g., wide push-button doors, rails) and rest areas, including benches that are an appropriate height
·       Adjustments and adaptations that help seniors feel safe and secure in the community
·       The ability to cross the road safely is an often mentioned concern, and it is reported that several cities have taken steps to improve the conditions for people crossing the road.
·       Provision of services within walking distance of where many seniors live
·       The availability of seating areas is generally viewed as a necessary urban feature for older people: it is difficult for many older people to walk around their local area without somewhere to rest
Barriers include  
·       Poor accessibility to and within public buildings
·       Generally, the features that are considered necessary for buildings to be age-friendly are: 
o  elevators 
o  escalators 
o  ramps 
o  wide doorways and passages 
o  suitable stairs (not too high or steep) with railings 
o  non-slip flooring
o  rest areas with comfortable seating 
o  adequate signage 
o  public toilets with handicap acce
·       However, in many cities there are barriers that prevent older people from using green spaces
·       Lack of and/or poor quality of sidewalks, curbs and crosswalks
·       Seasonal factors that reduce walkability and “scooterability” (e.g., snow, ice)
·       Shortage of accessible washrooms and rest areas along walking routes
Suggestions from participants for improving age-friendliness:
·       Provide intergenerational outdoor activities to foster socialization between younger and older members of the community, and to provide assistance to those with mobility problems.
·       Set up indoor walking clubs for periods of poor weather conditions.
·       Post signage indicating the location of public restrooms.
·       Provide good lighting throughout neighbourhoods and on trail

Age-friendly outdoor spaces and buildings checklist*
·       The city is clean, with enforced regulations limiting noise levels and unpleasant or harmful odours in public places.
Green spaces and walkways
·       There are well-maintained and safe green spaces, with adequate shelter, toilet facilities and seating that can be easily accessed.
·       Pedestrian-friendly walkways are free from obstructions, have a smooth surface, have public toilets, and can be easily accessed.
Outdoor seating
·       Outdoor seating is available, particularly in parks, transport stops and public spaces, and spaced at regular intervals; the seating is well-maintained and patrolled to ensure safe access by all.
·       Pavements are well-maintained, smooth, level, non-slip and wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs with low curbs that taper off to the road.
·       Pavements are clear of any obstructions (e.g. street vendors, parked cars, trees, dog droppings, snow) and pedestrians have priority of use.
·       Roads have adequate non-slip, regularly spaced pedestrian crossings ensuring that it is safe for pedestrians to cross the road.
·       Roads have well-designed and appropriately placed physical structures, such as traffic islands, overpasses or underpasses, to assist pedestrians to cross busy roads.
·       Pedestrian crossing lights allow sufficient time for older people to cross the road and have visual and audio signals.
·       There is strict enforcement of traffic rules and regulations, with drivers giving way to pedestrians.
Cycle paths
·       There are separate cycle paths for cyclists. Safety
·       Public safety in all open spaces and buildings is a priority and is promoted by, for example, measures to reduce the risk from natural disasters, good street lighting, police patrols, enforcement of by-laws, and support for community and personal safety initiatives.
·       Services are clustered, located in close proximity to where older people live and can be easily accessed (e.g. are located on the ground floor of buildings).
·       There are special customer service arrangements for older people, such as separate queues or service counters for older people.
·       Buildings are accessible and have the following features:
o  elevators
o  ramps
o  adequate signage
o  railings on stairs
o  stairs that are not too high or steep
o  non-slip flooring
o  rest areas with comfortable chairs
o  Sufficient numbers of public toilets.
Public toilets
·       Public toilets are clean, well-maintained, easily accessible for people with varying abilities, well-signed and placed in convenient locations.

*Source: Report on Age Friendly Communities  (pdf file)

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