Creating an age-friendly recovery
Age-friendly cities and communities were well-placed to respond to the pandemic. Encouraging communities to join the Network is more important than ever before.
Dr Thiago Hérick de Sá, Technical Officer for Age-friendly Environments at the World Health Organisation shares his thoughts on age-friendly communities in a global COVID-19 recovery.
The coronavirus pandemic was a storm that few were expecting. It has been nothing short of devastating, particularly for older people. Now is the time to consider how to build a recovery that puts older people, and age-friendly cities and communities, at their heart.
While being a heavily impacted group, throughout the pandemic many older people remained invisible, without support and unfairly stereotyped as one homogenous group of ‘vulnerable’ citizens – far from reality, as we well know the vast amount of diversity that characterises the older population.
At the same time, from across the globe we saw that cities and communities already actively working towards becoming age-friendly were able to better leverage networks to support their residents during the pandemic.
A healthy and vibrant later life is still far from reality for many people across the globe.
One of the key strengths of age-friendly cities and communities is precisely recognising the diversity among older people, and taking a collaborative, cross sectoral approach to creating places that enable people of all ages to live long, healthy lives. Central to this is the meaningful engagement with – and active participation of – older people themselves, who know what they want and what they need, especially in the face of a crisis.
Unfortunately, a healthy and vibrant later life is still far from reality for many people across the globe. Each of us saw the disastrous impact the pandemic had on older people’s lives, whether anecdotally, or first-hand. The rhetoric remains that the disproportionate number of deaths in older adults due to COVID-19 was due largely to greater biological susceptibility– and therefore an unavoidable consequence of ageing. This isn’t entirely true, as we know that there are many other social factors in play that put older people at greater risk during the pandemic.
Encouraging cities and communities to adopt the WHO’s age-friendly framework for becoming more age-friendly can help to place older people at the heart of the decision-making processes that affect them. What’s more, it can also be an effective policy approach to reduce systemic age discrimination and foster healthy ageing, both vital attributes of a place that is well equipped to support their older residents through an emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
We must also keep working together to make municipal, local and regional level services more inclusive and responsive to the needs and aspirations of older people, addressing the issues that affect older people’s health and wellbeing.
Age-friendly communities, already practiced in working collaboratively and resourcefully across sectors, and in partnership, were able to pivot their activities to respond to the needs of older people as they arose, supporting several aspects of the response, including access to food, good quality information, social care and support, transportation, and health care, to name a few.
Examples in the UK are many and inspiring. For instance, Brighton & Hove ensured access to food and social connection for thousands of older people each week. In Barnsley, the council refurbished over 100 old laptops and iPads for care home residents to use during lockdown so that they could stay connected to friends and family during lockdowns and beyond. You can read more examples, collected by the Centre for Ageing Better.
There are also multiple inspiring examples of action coming from other members of the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities.
What would a fairer world look like? Certainly, one where every city, every community, and every neighbourhood is age-friendly. We invite you to join the movement.