Population ageing has been described as the greatest challenge facing the developed world today. Worldwide we are seeing a shift in the distribution of population towards older ages and this has considerable implications for the way that society works, the services that will need to be provided and the relationship between young and old.
The United Nations has recognised this global phenomenon and the challenges it presents, noting that population ageing was one of the most distinctive demographic events of the twentieth century and remains a priority throughout the twenty-first century. “For the near future, virtually all countries will face population ageing, although at varying levels of intensity and in different time frames.”
What does this mean:
The shift in age structure, as more people live for longer, means that retirement, superannuation/pensions and other social benefits, along with healthcare requirements, tend to extend over longer periods of time. Our society needs to plan for the needs of a much larger older population; sooner, rather than later.
The United Nations outlines that the challenge for the future is:
“to ensure that people everywhere will be enabled to age with security and dignity and continue to participate in their societies as citizens with full rights”.
At the same time,
“the rights of older persons should not be incompatible with those of other age groups, and the reciprocal relationships between the generations must be nurtured and encouraged”
How do we make age-friendly communities?
The World Health Organisation notes these things as essential to having an active ageing age-friendly community
- Positive images of older persons
- Accessible and useful information
- Accessible public and private transportation
- Inclusive opportunities for civic, cultural, educational and voluntary engagement
- Barrier-free and enabling interior and exterior spaces
- Places and programs for active leisure and socialization
- Activities, programs and information to promote health, social and spiritual well-being
- Social support and outreach
- Accessible and appropriate health services
- Good air/water quality
- Appropriate, accessible, affordable housing
- Accessible home-safety designs and products
- Hazard-free streets and buildings
- Safe roadways and signage for drivers and pedestrians
- Safe, accessible and affordable public transportation
- Services to assist with household chores and home maintenance
- Supports for caregivers
- Accessible stores, banks and professional services
- Supportive neighbourhoods
- Safety from abuse and criminal victimization
- Public information and appropriate training
- Emergency plans and disaster recovery
- Appropriate and accessible employment opportunities
- Flexible work practices
What is New Zealand doing to make our society more “age friendly”
Around the world there are many examples of cities, states and countries working to become age friendly. Some examples include:
- Victoria (Australia)
- New York City
However what is New Zealand doing?
Although New Zealand is relatively new to the age-friendly mission, it has certain advantages, says Dr Kalache. “It is a country that can easily mobilise because of the scale – only 4 ½ million, highly urbanised so you do have communities that are more isolated but the vast majority of the population lives in cities. “Ideas can be spread very quickly in a much more profound and influential way than would be the case in a large country like Canada or the States or Europe where you have the density, too big.”
Work on the concept is beginning in a number of places around New Zealand, including Kapiti, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Tauranga and Napier, and there is also interest in pursuing the venture by other areas. The emphasis is on creating a community for all ages, be it from wide ramps which work for both wheelchairs and pushchairs, to good transport links, access to information and strong social connections between generations, among other priorities.