Age-Friendly & Drivers of Change: It’s inter-generational.

Planet Longevity – 2nd Anniversary! As we enter our third year 2016, our basic function remains. Planet Longevity is a thought leadership panel. Our aim is to advance awareness of the changing social and economic conditions for all generations challenged by the multiple issues of living a longer life. Over the last few years, as we crafted (2012), formed (2014) and developed to where we are now; at the core of what we promote is forward thinking – with inter-generational connectivity in mind.

That fundamental notion transcends what so many often confine within their dialogue, as strictly a matter of “Boomer or Senior’s issues”. As we have said in different ways in our own conversations as a panel, and individually in our blog posts, you cannot isolate the topics such as health care, pension reforms or community design as one cohort’s concern.

With that in mind, we continue this year to support the Age-Friendly campaign, both on a local and global level, and encourage a sharper exchange of inter-generational views in the process. There are still so many differences in outlook and weighted levels of importance given to the many aspects of aging and longevity. Yet even the phrase “age-friendly” may not be as obvious in its intent to serve this inter-generational understanding.

Having said that, what we should be encouraged to know is that one subject which may bolster the age-friendly dialogue in an inter-generational exchange is technologyand its augmentation of living conditions throughout the life course for generations now and into the future.

Let’s connect some dots on this with some forward thinking.

Published in January 2016, in timing with the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, was a Future of Jobs report in a so named “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. One of the items featured in the report was “drivers of change”. This is broken into two categories – demographic/socio-economic, and technological. A significant driver of change in the first category is “longevity and aging demographics”.

Hook that up with one of the nine specifics in the technological category, such as robotics and autonomous transport, and you get I would argue, opportunity for inter-generational participation in designing a better age-friendly society. Technology augmentation – if it’s good for the old it’s good for the young, (which is one of the principles behind the age-friendly concept); it also can be said that – if the young and old get busy behind work (jobs) that support a longevity society, then we all benefit in this fourth revolution.

As the demographic and socio-economic narrative of the world is changing at warp speed, industries, countries, communities and individuals are going to have to adapt incrementally faster. As the WEF – Future of Jobs report suggests, the period of 2015 > 2017, (which we are in the middle of right now), is when the driver of “longevity and aging demographics” picks up momentum.

Exciting times to be elevating our thoughts about our Planet Longevity!

 
Mark Venning

Age-Friendly Canada: Time to Reboot!

Part Three

As a postscript to part two of Age-Friendly Canada: Time to Reboot, we leave off here with some general thoughts around brand messaging. The Age-Friendly concept is a growing movement and that is a good thing. Some cities globally, including in Canada, grabbed on to this early on and some more recently, and are largely hosted by local Seniors councils or groups, supported further by municipal and provincial governments. Some communities are still deliberating.

So – Age-Friendly Community. What if you are a citizen, walking the streets of your city or town and you never heard of this phrase before? You don’t know it is a global initiative launched a decade ago. How does it sound when you hear it? How does it relate to you as you actually read about it?

How would you pitch age-friendly?

Considering this WHO initiative, once explained, builds intelligently around eight key themes, as illustrated by a flower petal graphic; how would you pitch it in 50 words or less to someone of any age without any screen shots on an app or notes in your hand to prompt you? How about we start with this version in 49 words:

“An age-friendly city (community) encourages active ageing by optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age. In practical terms, an age-friendly city adapts its structures and services to be accessible to and inclusive of older people with varying needs and capacities” WHO 2007

Perhaps well said in 17 words – Bernard Isaacs, (leading Gerontology professor in the UK who died twenty years ago in 1995), was once quoted saying; “Design for the young and you exclude the old. Design for the old and you include everyone.” By this, we are to mean of course in this context – community design.

Reshape age-friendly marketing language

The first temptation for many I listen to, who live and breathe the Age-Friendly discussion, is to either get easily lost in the words of this multi-layered concept, and/or in many cases, turn it more into a Seniors-exclusive monologue, making it at first passing, potentially less resonant to that someone of any age.

At second passing, if you look at the well-intentioned messaging on many city Age-Friendly web sites, the tone of the content and the visuals supporting the brand messaging further frame the dialogue with the same Seniors monologue texture. Yet as we know, demographics are shifting, not only at the Boomer cohort level; Gen X for example is now tipping into their early 50’s and well, you know the rest.

If Age-Friendly brand messaging is going to reach more people, then the leaders and thinkers currently dedicated to the dialogue, have to look outwards to include, or at least induce a more direct line of sight to a value conversation for younger cohorts at the life stage they are at currently. A reshape of Age-Friendly marketing language is advantageous at this time – entering its second decade, to reboot the messaging and engage inter-generational voices.

After meeting and talking with people in all age cohorts about Age-Friendly over the past year, I have been encouraged, enough to say that there is more opportunity for moderating forums through stronger, targeted invitation in such a way that it matters to more people of any age.

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Worth a look lastly, one maybe not so small example at how it can be done – full respect to Age-friendly Belfast and their Intergenerational Guide and Toolkit.

 

Mark Venning

Age-Friendly Canada: Time to Reboot!

Part Two

Promoting Age-Friendly awareness in communities in Canada came closer to home these last few months, with special significance to Planet Longevity; as one of our panelists, Suzanne Cook, is now a participant in two of the recent 56 community grant projects awarded in the Ontario the Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant Program, under the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat Action Plan for Seniors.

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Suzanne will serve in an academic research advisory role in both cases – Cobourg and Peterborough; as these communities conduct needs assessments with an eye to develop an action plan for age-friendly programs, or build on existing age-friendly initiatives. Along with her passion for forward thinking on aging issues, Suzanne is a Gerontologist who also brings to the table, her expertise as a Ph.D. in Adult Education and Community Development.

With particular emphasis on the issue of affordable housing, the Cobourg based project title is “Northumberland County’s Plan for Positive Aging”. What is a common thread in so many age-friendly initiatives such as this one, is the collaborative nature of community partnerships, including individual citizens, businesses and not-for-profits; Habitat for Humanity in the Northumberland project.

Inter-generational community engagement

Suzanne Cook has great insights on positive aging and inter-generational learning as evidenced by her work at York University teaching a Sociology of Aging course, where she engaged students with older adults. In my conversation with her about these community projects, we discussed how important it is in this needs assessment process, to reach out to a broad range of people for community engagement at an inter-generational level. How and to what extent this happens in any of the 56 Ontario projects remains to be seen.

At some point, let us hope that the messaging about age-friendly, which was designed to be inclusive, doesn’t end up becoming a dialogue in a seniors-centric bubble. Here’s an idea! Let’s take the age-friendly discussion to high schools as a class project, asking teens who have grandparents how they would improve the environment for an age-friendly community. The top three classes with the best ideas gets to present to an Age-Friendly Council at a pizza party.

No question we need to consult with older citizens, who on many levels of limited access and mobility, are already experiencing first-hand the need for a community that works better for them and meets their needs. The reboot in this second decade of the global Age-Friendly movement is about the way we message the positive relevancy of it, for the generations who are fast becoming our elder caregivers and future beneficiaries of the choices we make today.
Mark Venning

Age-Friendly Canada: Time to Reboot!

Part One: Updating the Context

In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) produced the Global Age-Friendly Cities guide, the result of a two-year project that involved the participation of 33 cities around the world, including four from Canada – Halifax, Portage La Prairie, Saanich and Sherbrooke. Canada hosted the first 2006 meeting of this group in Vancouver. One of the leadership connections to this global initiative is Canadian, Louise Plouffe, who along with Alexandre Kalache from Brazil, directed the entire project from its conception in 2005.

Here we are ten years after that conception. Where are we now? On a global basis, the Age-Friendly movement has grown and over 280 communities are now active in the actual WHO network, proclaimed now as an Age-Friendly World. You can browse the directory on the site and look for the city profiles.

age-friendly-in-practice-460pxBut what of Saanich BC for example; one of the original cities in the WHO project, for some reason not in this new directory? The 2014 update on their Age-Friendly website shows one particular initiative, the “Trust Me” Project Inter-generational Dialogues, which is in harmony with our Planet Longevity theme this year around “Inter-generational Connections”. Full marks for this, we hope it is still ongoing.

In Canada, there are well over 1000 Age-Friendly projects underway and in Ontario alone this year, the Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant Program, under the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat Action Plan for Seniors, has funded $1.5 million to 56 communities to roll out projects that are to be complete by March 2017.

In Ontario, one can say that we now have some significant traction on age-friendly community planning, boosted by this modest amount of funding. The general scope of this grant is to encourage communities, who may or may not have a full grasp of the age-friendly initiative, to conduct needs assessments and evaluations for the development of age-friendly action plans for their community.

Yet most of the current communities, including some of the 56 funded this year, do not have a large organizational structure or budget, and are led by inspired volunteer community leaders and concerned citizens at large, trying to make a difference. Some have local community partnerships, information-filled web sites and promote regular community events. Some do not.

While the world is concerned about the effect of population aging, meeting the needs of an older demographic in urban environments, one way to help with the effectiveness of an age-friendly plan, is to cultivate a sensibility that this is not exclusively a dialogue for seniors. Public consultations and research in these Ontario communities over the next 18 months will ideally engage conversations with inter-generational perspectives that we are so keen to see.

This links to what is stated in the WHO Age-Friendly World site: “An age-friendly city fosters solidarity among generations within communities, facilitating social relationships and bonds between residents of all ages. Opportunities for residents from different backgrounds and demographics to interact and get to know each other facilitates community integration.”

So with this in mind, as we enter this Age-Friendly second decade – it is time for a reboot!

 

Mark Venning

Seniors’ Summer: Did Vibrancy Find You?

Even though the heat of late August for the most part continues, you can hear it, some still say – “Summer is on the wane.” But let’s not get morose. September month is one of the most beautiful of this season. Neither is it time to give up on our Planet Longevity call for celebrating a Senior’s Summer. We opened with our suggested theme “Inter-generational Opportunities: Things that Bond Us” and hopefully that’s what we explored in all our conversations.

As Suzanne Cook said in her June 30th blog post Top Five Spaces and Places for Inter-generational Relationships, we need to “encourage and cultivate non-familial inter-generational interactions.” Traveling through a few small towns and cities in Ontario over the summer, I certainly easily observed evidence that familial interactions were alive and well, but not so obvious was the non-familial. They are there, but you have to dig for them.

Looking forward to 2016, perhaps the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat can generate a more dynamic interest by adopting this inter-generational theme as I suggested in my June 18 post on creating inter-generational narrative. One key way to strengthen this is to, in some way link the conversations to the Age-Friendly community initiative.

What does it take?

Why not reach out to high schools and colleges such as Sheridan College, which has an Elder Research Centre, where seniors could actively approach student groups to develop a forum, or even run a contest for the best ideas to discuss ways we can build “vibrant inter-generational communities”.

Perhaps this is a sponsorship opportunity for any business with a service or product they are targeting to an older demographic segment, where the primary person helping to make the buying decision is actually from a younger age group. In fact, some community Councils on Aging are tagging to the Age-Friendly theme, or are designated within the World Health Organization (WHO) global Age-Friendly World movement.

The Toronto Council on Aging talks to plans for neighborhood projects that include interaction with Business Improvement Areas (BIA’s). These BIA’s in turn could involve the school systems in contests or “inter-generational forums” as suggested above. Neighbourhood networks promoting Age-Friendly initiatives must include younger people.

Seniors – Go Big!

So for next year, if Ontario Seniors groups want to pick up more vibrancy from 2015, begin now to make it a Seniors’ Summer with outward facing messaging that encourages the benefits of an inter-generational exchange of ideas. Go big!

 
Mark Venning

Why not celebrate a “Seniors’ Summer”?

June 2015 is the 31st annual Seniors’ Month in Ontario with the theme Vibrant Seniors, Vibrant Communities. A large part of what makes a vibrant community is the inter-generational aspect.

Planet Longevity submits our theme “Inter-generational Opportunities: Things that Bond Us”, by way of proposing to Seniors’ organizations, that they develop more outward messaging to attract younger generations to join a conversation on issues of mutual concern. So with our view to help celebrate in a broader way – why not make it Seniors’ Summer?

Issues such as affordable living, accessible community design and social inclusion are of common concern to people regardless of age and stage of life. Conversations need to be framed as such, to positively create an inter-generational narrative in an age where wider economic disparities layer in as one of the multiple concerns of an aging population.

Canada was a major contributor to the World Health Organization (WHO) Age-friendly Cities Guide published in 2007. In 2013, the Ontario government published its own Age-friendly Community Guide. Two of the key elements in the WHO guide are social participation & respect and social inclusion. Within these two elements, lie the benefits of having better inter-generational connections and these are integral to the success of age-friendly communities.

To a large extent, Seniors bring insights from varied careers and have lived through several economic cycles over many decades, and together with those not so senior they are making their way into the same challenging future. Let’s find ways to take advantage of inter-generational connections to help build and strengthen our communities.

Summer is also the perfect time where all generations have more time to be together and, in a less pressured way, can open conversations about practical topics that are often sensitive to family dynamics, such as powers of attorney, care directives, wills and estate planning.

Finally, in reference to the fun side of summer, the season every one of any age looks forward to in Ontario; this Seniors’ Summer is an opportunity to encourage more inter-generational participation in one of the eight WHO age-friendly aspects – promoting neighbourhood projects to build and beautify outdoor spaces. Happy Seniors’ Summer!

 

The Planet Longevity Team

A Holistic Approach to Healthy Aging.

With spring finally here, what a great time to announce that I was the first guest on the new weekly show called Why Our Seniors Matter launched May 4th, 2015 on ListenUp Talk Radio where my interview focused on a holistic approach to healthy aging. While this show will cover a range of topics of broad interest in the daily lives of seniors, it seems perfectly fitting to open with this holistic view.

Over the next thirteen weeks, the Why Our Seniors Matter show will feature many practical matters from finance to fitness, but they all tie in to one or more of the eight aspects of the holistic healthy aging – social, cognitive, physical, psychological, spiritual, purposeful work, financial and environmental.

In my progress, through my work as a gerontologist and educator, my focus has been on supporting a new vison of aging – healthy aging that is not only out of concern for the old but also for their families which makes all this truly an “inter-generational” new vision.

As I mentioned in the Talk Radio interview, there are gaps in how we provide information on aging matters directly to seniors in the community, and there will be a growing demand on family members of all ages to become an integral part of that information food chain as the aging demographic curve rises over the next two decades.

Furthermore, we require new ways of providing information and resources to those who need it. Communities and municipalities as well as businesses serving seniors can do a lot to shape the way information about seniors’ services and resources is presented. Lack of awareness is one issue but equally important is timely information provision.

Many older adults have complex needs and the best way to meet them is to enhance information, including knowledge of resources and tools. Better information provision is a key way to build an age-friendly society.

Coming up in June is Seniors’ Month in Ontario. Listening in to the Why Our Seniors Matter radio show is timely and as it happens all this coincides with our Planet Longevity theme of inter-generational connections as part of what makes a healthier age friendly community; all viewed in that holistic approach.
Suzanne Cook

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

Planet Longevity: Celebrating 1st Anniversary!

Actually in a way, it was in September 2012 that the eight of us came together to form what became Planet Longevity and our web site went up with our first bi-weekly blog post Feb.2 2014. Heading into our second year, as a thought leadership panel, we will focus on specific aspects under the theme:

“Age Friendly Community, Inter-generational Connections.”

As an example of one of these aspects, our Planet Longevity panelist Suzanne Cook teaches a Sociology of Aging course developed at York University, where Inter-generational Learning is experienced; eight older adults joining students in their 20’s, which is an innovative method of linking these generations. Suzanne also presented on this topic at the Canadian Association on Gerontology conference in October last year.

So much more underscores this theme of “age friendly” when it comes to things like designing community neighbourhoods, understanding the shared investment in the delivery of appropriate home/health care and not to forget, how financial literacy crosses the life course – not just retirement nest egg planning.

In addition, we will continue to track Canadian and international initiatives to share perspectives on how various parts of the world are forward thinking on aging issues. It’s a global demographic shift of considerable measure in some regions more than others, and the way each community positively reshapes the longevity narrative for future generations will perhaps be judged useful only if influenced by a more inter-generational conversation.

Thanks to Suzanne Cook, Mary Ellen Tomlinson, Sandra Downey, Lorraine Clemes, Marie Howes, Jill Jukes and Gerald Bramm for contributing to the ongoing idea generation, research, marketing and blogging for the group. Happy Anniversary to us!

 

Mark Venning