Age friendliness: Coming to a community near you?

It goes without saying that older people are the experts of their own lives. So it is worth paying attention when the World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada identified eight essential dimensions that constitute an age friendly community based on what seniors around the world deem important. The Age Friendly Community Guide was launched in 2007 and a number of governments and local communities groups across Canada are coming on board, encouraging communities to get ready for the pending dominance of an older population. In fact, the federal, provincial and territorial Ministers responsible for Seniors authorized the production of a Canadian version of this holistic framework that focused on rural and remote communities. Canadian political leaders have endorsed this strategy as a way to prepare for the aging population.

Creating an age-friendly community requires leadership that is shared among all levels of government, the community sector, business and individuals. However, local leadership is the driving force because – in the end – it’s that direct, local experience that matters. Here’s a brief snapshot of what’s happening from west to east.

BC – The Union of BC Municipalities has partnered with the Healthy Children, Women and Seniors and Injury Prevention Branch of the Ministry of Health to create resources for local governments and communities to assist them in becoming age-friendly. Several communities are taking up the challenge and have held community meetings as a first step.

Manitoba – Manitoba has made a commitment to making that province “the most age friendly province in Canada” and alongside its community, academic and business partners is working with 29 communities in the “first round” of action in support of this vision.

Ontario – June is Seniors’ Month in Ontario and the theme in 2009 is Age Friendly Communities. Over a dozen initiatives have sprung up around the province. Seven regional dialogues will be held this fall to inspire local action while the francophone community undertakes a similar effort.

Quebec – Quebec is investing $2.8 million over five years to pilot efforts to make seven communities age-friendly. This includes $470,000 for research on the pilots which will be conducted at the Research Centre on Aging at the University of Sherbrooke.

Nova Scotia – Halifax was one of the original participants in the WHO project. In 2008 the provincial government made special funds available for projects that embody age-friendliness and take a locally-driven and “bottom up” approach to age-friendliness.

Newfoundland and Labrador – NL’s Healthy Aging Policy Framework preceded the Age friendly Communities initiative but embraces many of the same principles and desired outcomes. Late in 2008 the government launched an ad campaign intended to create positive images of aging and recognizing the contribution of seniors in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Alberta, Saskatchewan, NB, PEI, Territories – These provinces are exploring the issue and holding provincial forums. Contact the individual Seniors’ Ministries to find out more.