Age-Friendly: Progress in Peterborough 2017

In follow-up to the Planet Longevity July blog post Age-Friendly: Ten Years On, 2007-2017, here it is fitting and timely that we now have in our hands to share, the Peterborough, Ontario – Age-Friendly Community Action Plan, released in June 2017. This plan summary is a wonderful piece of work, reflecting the careful and thoughtful process this community engaged in over a number of years, further supported through a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

AFP Plan-Cover-graphic

 

One of the striking things that pops out immediately in the reading is the language of inclusiveness and in particular referring to the ongoing needs of “older adults”. Full praise for the consistency of use of this term, as it lends itself to imagine a population that is broader and more diverse in nature than what that tired word seniors evokes. Language is a quirky thing. You even hear younger adults now say how tired they are, being referred to as millennials.

At the risk of creating a distraction from the positive message of the Age-Friendly movement, for a moment it is worth poking the dialogue to say that while there are those who don’t take any exception to being called a senior, there is however another newer wave of older adults out there who are less inclined to identify with that. Let future proponents of the Age-Friendly movement take note.

Though seniors is referenced in the content, which can’t be helped based on historical usage, it does not in this document take away from the underlying message of Age-Friendly. Having read and viewed a number of the Age-Friendly plans and websites, this Peterborough stands as a model example of how the language of age-friendly can connect the dots more succinctly for a wider audience.

As a comparative to Peterborough, the 2017 Oakville baseline study, referred to in my previous blog post, still leans too much on the term Seniors as opposed to older adults. As well composed as the Oakville baseline is, with recognition of the diversity of those over age 55, the mixed definer language breaks down the various older cohorts but it has a dated sound to it. Perhaps future updates, with more input from others will develop a different tone for an inter-generational conversation.

Noteworthy praise goes to Peterborough for weaving the inter-generational connections in its Age-Friendly plan (Page 35) while at the same time as recognizing the urban and rural distinctions of the greater region – and capturing the voice of the First Nations community which again is inclusive in the scope of the plan. Regionally and certainly within larger cities this cultural aspect is a significant part of the conversation that will need more attention as it fits within the eight dimensions of the 2007 WHO Age Friendly model.

Age-Friendly Peterborough is worth the download to read and learn.

 

Mark Venning

Age-Friendly: Ten Years On, 2007-2017

Some global movements start up with all the best of intentions, but not all pick up traction, nor given enough time to develop in the collective mind-share of the public. Initiatives such as Habitat for Humanity for example, which has roots going back to the mid 1970’s, stand out largely because the concept serves a basic need everyone can immediately identify with anywhere around the world; and of course gather celebrity endorsement and participation from the likes of people such as former US President Jimmy Carter.

Planet Longevity, since our beginning, continues to promote the Age-Friendly Cities initiative as first introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007. In 2015, we did a three part blog series titled Age Friendly Canada: Time for a Reboot suggesting that we still had a long way to go to elevate the awareness of what has steadily become a global movement.

age-friendly-in-practice-460px

 

 

 

 

Now ten years on, (checking out the WHO Age-Friendly World website) – there are now 500 communities that have adopted this movement in 37 countries. Canada has 59 communities at various stages of development. My city, the Town of Oakville has finally nudged past the rudimentary public “survey stage” and released an initial Age-Friendly “baseline study” in January 2017 – approved by Town Council in April.

As was referenced in our October 2015 post, one of our Planet Longevity members Suzanne Cook, became a participant in two of 56 community grant projects awarded in the Ontario the Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant Program. Suzanne has served in an academic research advisory role for Cobourg and Peterborough, Ontario as these communities conducted needs assessments with an eye to develop action plans for age-friendly programs.

In the case of Peterborough, as reported in the June 23 Examiner “Age-Friendly Peterborough plan takes shape”, the process seems to have gone beyond the assessment phase and is now in front of their city council for adoption. As Trent University’s Elizabeth Russell, Faculty Fellow with the Trent Centre for Aging & Society, is quoted in the article: “…evidence… shows us that this type of planning is much more effective in the longer term…”

True enough, but taking a leaf from the book in the Habitat experience, the marketing messaging on Age-Friendly Communities could take on a sharper tone, for the basic human need for healthy active aging is relevant to all generations. Inter-generational connections is mentioned as one part of the Peterborough vision, but in order for that to happen, the language of age-friendly needs to connect the dots more succinctly than it currently does in order for the movement to grow into the next decade.

 

Mark Venning

Seniors? Captures a wider continuum of age.

A month away until Ontario’s 32nd annual Seniors’ Month and the 2016 theme is “Seniors Making a Difference”. Consider the fact if you will, that the word “Seniors” captures a very wide continuum of age. In some cases, depending on to whom the marketing is being directed, a so-called senior could be as early as age 55, extending to 105 or beyond. That’s a potential of fifty years of making a difference.

Seniors Month Web Eng

 

 

 

 

 

With that in mind, it makes the concept of extended lifetimes harder to decide – when does someone suddenly become a Senior?  No disrespect, but does the word senior perpetuate a stereotype or draw too rigid a definition of a segment of age in a society? Someone 55 may not identify with that word unless maybe you’re giving them a retail consumer discount. Is there a better word for an older person?

You don’t hear anyone calling Gen Y – “Juniors”. Well there is the organization Junior Achievement; let’s give you that. But even their branding is now JA Canada and the word junior has slid from the slide show.

When you think of it, when an organization like the National Institute on Ageing, (referenced in our last blog post), promotes a more up to date message, with the title for their upcoming conference being – “Rethink Ageing” – is it not time to consider a fresher approach to marketing a month dedicated to celebrating the contributions of older citizens?

Of course, the Ontario Seniors’ Secretariat only tosses out a theme and offers a forum for local communities to host their own events with their own way of celebrating the month. Judging by the postings listed so far, with the 2016 province wide events starting at the end of May actually, the standard offerings range from free Seniors’ BBQ’s and Strawberry Socials, to Information sessions on community services and Seniors’ achievement awards.

Seniors and their Juniors (and often together), are making a difference all year long in their communities, some quietly, without expectation of a fanfare. In 2013, the Ontario government published its own Age-friendly Community Guide. Two of the key elements in the guide are social participation & respect and social inclusion. As we suggested last year, within these two elements, lie the benefits of having better inter-generational connections that are integral to the success of an age-friendly community.

Perhaps with a little more thought, some communities will be encouraged to look for a new line of sight for redefining Seniors, recognizing that no one can deny any one of any age, that “making a difference” is an ageless opportunity.

 

Mark Venning

Aging and longevity, a privileged experience.

As we look ahead into our third year at Planet Longevity, there is no doubt that the major themes around aging and longevity will continue to evolve from the ones we looked at in 2015. Topics like Inter-generational Connectivity and Age-Friendly Communities were frequently at the centre of our conversation generated here on our bi-weekly blog.

While we consider all this we should put into perspective the fact that though familiar, heavily discussed social and economic issues related to aging demographics (e.g. health care investments, pension reforms) will be ongoing for many years to come, we need to consider such issues as they unfold, alongside other immediate global realities that are currently adding to our challenges.

For example, right now, as we close out this year, the global refugee migration and resettlement crisis of over a million people is at the highest level it has been in about seventy years. The question is, for parts of the world like Europe, with high youth unemployment and an already high proportion of an elder population; how will this enormous tragedy be acknowledged and managed going forward?

Somehow this question, layered into other conversations on difficult world issues, will no doubt be at play into 2016. As we celebrate and promote an age-friendly society, let us not forget how positive aging and longevity is a privileged experience for those of us more fortunate and able to articulate it – and with systems and policies designed to better achieve it.

Perhaps the disruptive realities of millions of people on the other side of the world, are often perceived as being at a comfortable screen-distance away. But these events are not that distant, and neither will the next speed-driven twenty years be, as the world population experiences demographic shifts which may not turn out to be exactly as we project or envision.

It is with this in mind that we still need to encourage more innovations responsive to the changing dynamics of communities, inclusive of the needs of all ages and diverse cultural backgrounds. I have a strange suspicion that the outlooks we take in the future, on adapting for an aging society, will require even more of a demand for a global perspective. Is that perchance why we call this group – Planet Longevity?

With a sense of good will and purpose … and a serious amount of good fortune, as Theodore Roszak once said, “longevity will outlast the Boomers.”

Best wishes for the New Year – 2016!

 

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

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

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