The quality of life of older adults is greatly influenced by the overall quality of life — and the availability of needed and appropriate infrastructure and services — in the area where they live.
The World Health Organization refers to these influences as the eight domains of "livability." Here is a global look at efforts to make communities more livable and age-friendly.
Domain 1: Open Spaces And Buildings
United States: In age-friendly Macon Bibb, Georgia, feedback from older adults helped give an historic park a new lease on life. Involving older people helped catalyze change and attract funding for a more accessible, more attractive and usable green space. Residents of all ages can enjoy new benches, well-marked entrances and wider paths. Plans for traffic calming measures will make the park easier to reach as well as easier to use.
United Kingdom: The city of Manchester's age-friendly design program is developing a set of guidelines that will evolve over time and address a range of issues, from the availability of parks to suitable bus timetables. A partnership with the city's schools of architecture and art — and the engagement of older adults — is central to the program, which is overseen by a forum made up of older residents and urban design and planning professionals.
Domain 2: Transportation
Korea: In terms of miles covered, the subway system in Seoul is the largest in the world. To make the system more accessible to seniors, the city introduced several age-friendly adaptations including elevators at each station, platforms with automatic gates, LCD screens displaying real-time train arrival times and comprehensive voice announcements on trains. Priority seating for older adults is rigidly enforced by all and is a standout feature of the Seoul subway culture.
Australia: As part of its efforts to become age-friendly, Australia's capital city of Canberra has lowered the age of eligibility for its free public transit card from 75 to 70. The benefit now covers an additional 9,000 residents. Thanks to a new electronic smartcard, clients of the city’s taxi subsidy scheme, most of whom are frail older adults, have an easier way to pay for taxi rides.
Domain 3: Respect and Inclusion
United Kingdom: The physical environment plays a key role in the quality of life of all people. Manchester made intergenerational work a focus of its age-friendly program Sharing the City, which brought older and younger people together to develop intergenerational approaches to urban design. The Valuing Older People Board, which leads the work on Age-Friendly Manchester, has developed a partnership with the Manchester Youth Council to provide a platform for solidarity between the generations.
Australia: In Canberra, the city’s annual Life’s Reflections Photographic Competition and exhibition generates positive images of older Canberrans. The winning photographs appear in public exhibitions and are used in government publications. The event involves people of all ages and serves to highlight the importance of older residents as parents and grandparents, workers, volunteers, friends and neighbors.
Domain 4: Housing
Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Housing Society set up the Elderly Resource Center to promote the concept of aging in place to the community. The resource center and its website offer education, training, assessments and advice on age-friendly housing design to improve the quality of life of older Hong Kong residents.
United States: With its age 65+ population expected to soar during the next two decades, the city of Portland, Oregon, has brought age-friendly concepts into its planning process. (Check out Portland's action plan for creating an age-friendly community.) The city is prioritizing the creation of accessible housing that’s in close proximity to neighborhood hubs where existing services, transit and amenities make it easier for older people to live independently.
Domain 5: Communications and Information
Australia: Mobile phones and the Internet have become a way for people to stay connected. However, not all older people are familiar with technologies such as email, texting, web searches and social media. Age-friendly Melville facilitated information technology (IT) and mobile phone training sessions where young people taught older residents. Both parties reported benefitting from the experience.
Ireland: In the Irish county of Louth, information for older people in a “one stop shop” format was the single most important issue for the older adults consulted about Louth's age-friendly strategy. A booklet on services for older people was developed first, followed by a website and a network of “parlors” that provide information face-to-face.
Domain 6: Civic Participation and Employment
Canada: London, Ontario, used the age-friendly process as an opportunity to engage community members as volunteers on its age-friendly task force, which helped develop the city’s "Age-Friendly London: Three-Year Action Plan." The volunteers are now involved in working groups, organized by the eight domains, to help make the plan a reality.
Australia: The Australian Capital Territory, home of the nation's capital Canberra, has produced age-friendly business guides that encourage local businesses to be accessible and attractive to employees as well as to customers. The guides provide information about the benefits of employing older workers, with tips on recruitment, retention and training.
Domain 7: Health and Community
United States: Family members are rarely prepared to take on the role of being a caregiver for an ailing loved one and often feel overwhelmed. The Caregiver Coaching Program was launched as part of the age-friendly program in Westchester County, New York. Volunteers are trained to provide individual support to family caregivers through regular telephone conversations. Such support can be essential to helping caregivers make informed decisions.
Taiwan: Hondao Foundation’s All in One program recruits a group of four caregivers to serve six to 12 households in the community where older people need support. By delivering care in small groups, the service aims to be more comprehensive, cost effective and consistent while also building and maintaining community and social links.
Domain 8: Social Participation
Australia and Ireland: In the U.K., Australia and a few other nations, “sheds” are local programs or projects that provide social and community activities for older men. Men’s sheds typically take on projects that involve building or making things. The cities of Melville, Western Australia, and Louth and Kildare, Ireland, support men’s sheds. In Louth the men’s shed built bus shelters, which had been identified by senior citizens as a problem and priority need.
United States: Fast-moving traffic near a senior activity center in Austin, Texas, caused the facility to be physically inaccessible to many older adults. AARP volunteers succeeded in lobbying the local government to add a crosswalk and a pedestrian-controlled traffic signal. The center is now safely accessible by foot, car and public transportation.