Aging Baby Boomers will need “age-friendly” cities

By Catherine Wheeler

Age-friendly cities are developing in 37 different countries, according to the World Health Organization. Photo courtesy of Jared Wong, Flickr

ORLANDO — Public transportation, access to health care, and walkability. Those are just a few things older Americans should consider when looking for a place to live.

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, more people are thinking about how cities can meet the needs of older Americans. “Age-friendly cities” are cities that offer accommodations and fosters intergenerational inclusion regardless of ability, according to the World Health Organization.

Dr. Rosemary Laird, a geriatrician at the Centre for Senior Health at Florida Hospital Medical Group, points out that aging is universal. “It’s something that really unites us,” she said.

Laird presented her work about developing age-friendly cities at the Association for Health Care Journalists conference in Orlando Friday.

Laird said her goal is for people to live a long, high functioning life, then experience only a short decline before passing on. Ideally, older people would live a shorter time with chronic diseases and illness.

Promoting healthy living from birth through old age is a way to do this, she said. Things like water and air quality are just as important to older people as they are to children, Laird said.

Cities across the world are changing to become more age-friendly and accessible by adapting different kinds of community engagement opportunities. Communities are becoming safer so older people can live independently.

WHO has a checklist that can help people identify if their community is age friendly. It also has a list of age friendly communities across the world.

Physical fitness and activity are the most important aspects of prolonging a healthy lifestyle, she said. Cities can provide more access to recreations areas and fitness centers, as well as develop walkable neighborhoods near commercial areas.

Additionally, access to mental health services is important, especially if older people live alone. Family members and other caregivers can be support systems.

“Being alone isn’t healthy for human beings,” Laird said.

Life-long learning and brain fitness are also important to fostering strong mental health, especially at older age.

Finally, Laird said communities can create engagement strategies to get people of all ages together.  Civic participation is important because it gives older people the opportunity to contribute their knowledge from work and life.

But Laird said the most important factor in creating age-friendly communities is taking care of those who are most vulnerable: the sick and frail.

“You cannot create an age-friendly community unless you recognize and take care of the sick and frail,” she said. “If we work towards age-friendly society, we will be that culture that is supportive of everyone within our society: the healthy and those that need more of our support.”

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