When shopping around for a place to retire, most people look at the house or condo and at its immediate surroundings – the yard, the building or community amenities, and they may check how near the pool and golf courses are. Some may look a little further and evaluate local health care options.
But to really get a sense of how well a place will allow you to age in place, you need to look beyond the confines of a senior-friendly condo tower or gated development and assess the broader community.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has established guidelines that help entire cities and towns become friendly to ageing populations. One aspect of the programme entails a series of simple, easy-to-understand checklists that, when followed, can help cities better cater to an ageing population.
Cities across the globe have used WHO’s programme, the WHO Age-friendly Environments Programme, and its checklists, which cover everything from house and transit to social engagement and recreation, to develop age-friendly initiatives.
Individuals, too, can benefit from the checklists. Use them when you’re vetting potential cities for retirement to decide whether a town’s places – stores, streets, and cultural institutions, for example – are designed to be safe, friendly, and easy to navigate for seniors. And if you’re advocating for change in your own community, the checklists are a great starting point.
Here are some considerations, along with sample items from WHO checklists.
Does the city have an age-friendly vision for itself? London, Ontario, for example, has an age-friendly programme in place.
Programmes – What programmes are available for those over the age of 50? Some libraries are venues for socializing, exercise, and art classes.
Accessibility – Are materials easy to reach? Are aisles clear and wide enough for someone using a wheelchair or walker and can those people navigate the facility completely?
Collections and services –Are large print books, materials in multiple languages, and magnifier and listening devices available? Does the library offer computer classes for seniors?
Seating –Is seating comfortable and abundant? Do chairs have arms that can help those who have trouble getting up from armless chairs?
Culture and learning
Learning for life – What are the art and music education options and other opportunities for lifelong learning, such as book clubs, lectures, technology, and so forth. Where and how often are classes held? Are there no- and low-cost programmes?
Museums, concerts, and cultural engagement –Are there special programmes for seniors or reduced or free access?
Streets and transit
No one likes getting trapped in the crosswalk when a traffic light switches to green. Are streets pedestrian friendly and feature:
Extended pedestrian crossing times at crosswalks to accommodate slower walking speeds
Pedestrian safety islands
Benches, particularly at bus stops, in retail corridors, and in areas with high concentrations of senior citizens, to provide rest stops
Social inclusion, participation
Does the place have an inclusive vibe?Do you see baby boomers and seniors around town? Is there a mix of ages and does it seem that seniors are welcome at events and festivals?
Intergenerational –Community events and activities are available and are designed to appeal to people of different ages, abilities, and backgrounds.
Accessibility–Facilities are accessible and equipped to enable participation by people with disabilities or by those who require care.
Location. Venues for activities that interest you are convenient, accessible by public transit and provide access that is affordable.
Products on shelves are reachable or stores offer help reaching items.
Aisles are wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair.
Discounts or special offers are available for older adults.
Delivery services are available.
Places are available where customers can sit and rest and stores provide restroom for customers.
Sidewalks are free of dirt, snow, leaves, clutter, and other obstacles.
People who can’t leave their homes receive visits from community agencies, organizations, or volunteers.
There are ongoing outreach efforts to include people who are at risk of social isolation.
A culture of inclusion and a sense of “neighbours helping neighbours” is promoted in the community.
Affordable senior housing is located close to services.
A range of appropriate and affordable housing options is available for seniors.
There’s a range of appropriate services and amenities and activities in housing facilities.
Senior housing is integrated with the surrounding community
Senior residents are well-informed about the services available to help them age in place.
Learn more about WHO’s global efforts at making cities friendly to an ageing population and find examples of what some cities have accomplished.