The Father of The Age Friendly Cities Movement Forecasts The Future of Aging
On October 25th 2019, Dr. Alexandre Kalache, who founded the Age Friendly Cities movement during his years at the World Health Organization, presented at the Aging2.0 Revolutionize conference in Boston. During his talk, he provided a glimpse into what aging looks like today, what it could look like, and how we can improve it.
His presentation began with the two demographic imperatives of the 21st century: Urbanization and Aging. Due to improvements in healthcare at young ages, populations are growing older. In 2015, there was only one country where 30% of the population was over 60 (Japan), but by 2050, there will be many. When this planetary aging is combined with the 2007 shift of more people globally living in cities than in rural areas for the first time in recorded history, it creates an unprecedented situation: more older people living in cities than ever before. But why does this matter?
It matters because current physical and social infrastructure isn’t equipped to deal with the volume or quality of life of people aging in cities. In addition to needing more walkways and park benches, social support systems are being stressed by loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicide, all of which are being exacerbated by inequality.
Dr. Kalache’s presentation focused on a few key themes, but the broad brushstrokes were clear: through an approach that focuses on the rights for individuals to have health, work, learning, protection, participation, and many others, policy-makers can guarantee better outcomes for both the aging populations and younger generations in their cities. These require big shifts from current thinking about more hospital beds or programs and activities for older adults to participate in. Thes shifts, he argues, need to be systemic.
Dr. Kalache provided ample evidence that as inequality grows, health outcomes are negatively affected. It served as a call-to-action for the decision-makers in attendance that big changes need to be made in the next 30 years if we want to get beyond age friendly cities or communities to age friendly countries and an age friendly world.
So will it work? It depends. There are now more Age Friendly Cities and Communities than ever before (1,000+ and counting) showing that cities across the globe are prioritizing the needs of older citizens, but sizable changes will have to be undertaken to move towards reducing inequality to meet Dr. Kalache's imperative. That will require real resources to produce real results.
While thirty years could be enough for change, it also may not be. As you may guess by our references to the Age Friendly Cities and Communities movement and our collaboration with the World Health Organization, we're bullish on progress. So let's make it happen!
For all of the presentations, as well as photos of Aging2.0 Revolutionize, head over to the Age Friendly Foundation website.