It was in June 2005 that the World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Out of that meeting, the idea of a Global Age-Friendly Cities model was conceived. It was a project developed by the World Health Organization.
The World Health Organization defines an age-friendly community as, “A community where policies, services and structures related to the physical and social environment are designed to support and enable people of all ages to live in a secure environment, enjoy good health and continue to participate fully in society.”
The Age-Friendly movement continues to grow in Canada and globally. There are more than 1,000 cities and communities across Canada that are on the path to becoming age-friendly.
In Newfoundland and Labrador there are some 40 communities involved in age-friendly inititatives and the provincial government encourages more to embrace the concept since we are a province with a growing aging population.
The Town of Clarenville started on this journey back in 2007 when it was selected as one of 10 age-friendly pilot projects in Canada.
Summerside, Prince Edward Island is one city in Atlantic Canada on a mission in its desire to become a model age-friendly city.
The Summerside Age-Friendly Cities’ Committee, with the support of city council, is very active in engaging all stakeholders, including the business community and the younger generation, in discussions around the benefits of becoming a strong age-friendly city.
Many small to medium-size businesses have embraced “Age-Friendly Business” in their operations.
In September 2018, the committee hosted a “Rally of Communities” Wisdom & Experience Forum in Summerside.
Representatives from smaller surrounding communities, along with city leaders were invited to come together in a workshop setting to learn more about age-friendly as a model.
Leo Bonnell, vice-chair of the Random Age-Friendly Communities Board, was invited as the keynote speaker and presenter.
Bonnell has been involved at the community, provincial and national levels with the Age-Friendly Communities initiative and is recognized for his expertise in assisting communities get motivated and started on the road to becoming age-friendly.
In his opening address to the participants, he described the age-friendly concept as a global movement brought on by population aging which is unprecedented, pervasive, enduring and having profound implications for governments at all levels.
An overview of the Age-Friendly Communities going back to the origins in 2005 was provided.
Bonnell highlighted some of the reasons for population aging in Atlantic Canada as being an increase in longevity, low fertility and inter-migration when older people begin to move back to their home province from other parts of Canada after retirement.
He also shared with the audience his experience and involvement with the concept at the community, provincial and national levels over the last 10 years.
Bonnell defined what an age-friendly community looks like from his perspective gained from discussions with older adults and their family members.
He said it is a place where we can all lead healthier and active lives for a longer time; stay living in our own homes and communities; go where we need to go and when we need to go; feel safe at home and out and about; have the information we need to lead full and productive lives; be respected and valued; participate in social, economic and public life; continue to contribute to society; and where it is understood that as people age their needs change.
While the majority of Canadians live in urban and city settings, approximately 25 per cent of seniors still live in rural and remote small towns.
It was pointed out that in certain regions, there is some migration from the cities to larger towns by seniors after retirement since it better fits their preferred lifestyle.
Bonnell’s advice to any community or city considering embracing the age-friendly concept is that it should follow a well-established process, proven to be successful for many communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
It starts with forming a committee made up of the best people who have the interest, the commitment to stay on for the long-term, good communication skills and expertise, and, most important of all, the time.
Then, develop terms of reference. Carry out a community evaluation of strengths and weaknesses to give a comprehensive picture of its current age-friendliness by engaging seniors and their families.
Develop a plan and put the plan into action. Monitor progress and measure outcomes. Report back to the municipal council and the public.
Have the municipal government pass a resolution committing to support the idea of becoming an age-friendly community or city.
Recruit and refresh committee membership over time with a wide scope to include seniors and youth.
Bonnell took some time in his presentation to share with the forum participants many of the on-going age-friendly activities of Random Age-Friendly Communities Board in Clarenville.
Programs like Computers for Seniors; the annual Age-Friendly Seniors’ Information Fair; CREST, the Age-Friendly Transportation for Seniors; and GATHER were some that were referenced.
All of these programs have helped to make the Clarenville region more age-friendly.