NIA 2017 Conference & a Highlight on Housing

As with most subjects in our times, the subject of ageing in place is diverse, multi-faceted or if you will, so broad in its narrative for anyone to speak about it appropriately in a 30 second soundbite. And after attending the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) one-day conference Envisioning Ageing in Place in Toronto on November 23rd, it became even more apparent, that in order for the general public to appreciate it, the story does need to be unpacked.

NIAWhile the panel presenters conducted the unpacking exercise fairly well at this NIA conference over a full day, (all be it at a fast pace), it is important that we understand how every element is inter-connected; and that the way we view ageing in place takes on many individual preferences or perspectives. The other thing to remember is that over time in our later life continuum, that place, that home if you will, may change; our needs will change as our circumstances change incrementally, such as our health condition.

At what stage and time does someone become proactive about, (as the title of one panel discussion described), “future-proofing” housing? That’s only one way of asking the question about ageing in place, which is put in the context of home design and renovation for the eventuality of delivering accessible home care and self-ability to stay and live in home for as long as possible.

Even before that question, at an earlier stage of later life such as late 50’s, when health is reasonably good and an active life of work and other social or community engagement continues, the proactive question may be about “where do we want our place, our home, our community to be – at least in the foreseeable future?” Our sense of place is subject to constant review as our life course evolves.

There was talk at the conference about the current dialogue Canadians over age 50 are having about either moving to a smaller town or downsizing to a smaller home or condo. Great options exist for those fortunate, reasonably affluent and socially connected individuals but the other side of the story, which is gathering more attention is the concern around affordable housing for those on low or fixed incomes.

In many cases for those facing an advanced stage of later life with limited ability to finance their longevity, the options for ageing in place appear less than attractive or feasible – as things stand now, whether it’s the where of the place and/or the how of the delivery of services in home. However, while there are positive examples that are emerging today, where communities are waking up to the future, there is still a slow movement on the part of municipalities to address the opportunities of improving the options.

Glenn Miller, Senior Associate at the Canadian Urban Institute commented at the front end of the panel titled – “Shifting Towards Inclusive Municipal Planning Processes & land Use Policies to be More Effectively Support Ageing in Place”, that while 500 communities across Canada have embraced the 2007 WHO Age Friendly Cities (AFC) framework, “the planning departments of those municipalities have not taken the obvious step of acknowledging the AFC commitment in their land use plans.”

Obvious opportunity indeed, as we look forward; opportunity to make this ageing in place, ageing in community a prominent issue in our upcoming 2018 Ontario election cycle, both provincial and municipal. Yet as I have since moved on from the NIA conference with time to think, it strikes me that affordable and accessible housing is more than a political or social issue for older adults.

Talking with others in younger age groups these days, the highlight on housing is just as important to them, even if ageing in place is not the lens they are looking through right now. As I read it, the spirit of the WHO Age Friendly movement is an inter-generational affair. In many cases it is also the younger adults who are helping their older parents with ageing in place decisions. Yes, the search for innovative approaches to housing, home and community design is our common thread.

 

Mark Venning

Age Friendly Community, Inter-generational Connections.

In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a Global Age-friendly Cities Guide. Born out of a conversation at the World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Brazil two years earlier, it quickly became an international project with a huge scope. Let me proudly mention here, that there was a unique Canadian contribution early in this endeavour with funding and in-kind support from the Public Health Agency of Canada. You can read the rest of the tribute in the WHO guide.

The WHO “age-friendly” concept describes itself around eight themes and with the subset issues considered what you get is a combination of 70 elements and woven together it is enough to serve as a platform for robust discussion for innovation and change. As a group at Planet Longevity, our intent is to support this discussion across all generations.

Four cities in Canada (Halifax, Portage La Prairie, Sherbrooke and Saanich) took part in the initial 33-city WHO research project and since then a number of Canadian cities have formed community initiatives around this theme. From what I can tell, over the eight years since then, participation has been fragmented, and to some degree the conversation seems rather muted if non-existent in the general population. I think the perception is that “age-friendly” is an older person’s bone to chew on.

Why is this still significant for everyone? It’s no mystery that by 2030 the global population will be at the highest level of its migration to cities. In fact, we are realizing the impact of this right now. The evolution of cities will be every generation’s project – function, form, flow and the fabric of human interaction. Over the next fifteen years, the percentage of persons older than 65 will be significantly higher and thus the need to adapt the urban agenda to a workable inter-generational model for an aging population is a key opportunity.

A new narrative must frame how cities can be better designed, while integrating specific incremental life stage needs of older people alongside the shared needs of all generations – remembering that positive social interaction is a major contributor to the healthier lives of all generations.

Perhaps, could the better phrase be – “age-inclusive” cities?

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One element of societal change related to aging demographics in cities is the shifting nature of families and the evolution of other networks and communities. Considering we age in stages throughout a lifetime, (and today in more variable social formations), we might see it as evolutionary that there are life course solutions that more than one generation can envision.

Next month Lorraine Clemes will talk about one group of women as an example, who for the last forty years have “created and lived the benefits of a strong chosen family”.

 
Mark Venning