With an explosion in number of elderly population in the world, many issues related to their happy aging keep cropping up. One among them is their place of stay. In past, there was not much discussion about it as family used to be an extended one and all members, including the elderly, were automatically a part of it. Family used to be the first and only choice. The seniors, in fact, enjoyed a premier position in terms of respect and authority. All generations used to live together and happily too. Things started changing with the impact of two factors: western influence and urbanization. Both these have impacted the way we live and behave. The direct impact has been on the elderly with the evolution of the concept of 'unitary family'. While in rural places, one can still see extended families, in urban centers, there is a complete withering of the large family system.
The above development has given rise to three modes of living for elderly. In few cases, they continue to stay with their children, but on account of inter-generational conflicts and lack of living space, this is become increasingly rare. In the second option, the elderly stay alone in their homes. This 'stay alone' phenomenon is one of the major causes of loneliness and depression. While migration back to the system of extended family is not possible, staying alone may also not be the wise option.
And finally, some seniors have started moving to old age homes or apartments. While some of these are well-managed and livable, others are really not in great shape. One major problem in this set up is that the seniors are always interacting with others who are also elderly, and therefore, the energy and vibrance is lacking. Loneliness and depression do not get resolved through such interactions.
Meaning and development of age-friendly communities:
The above problems of 'living place' by elderly have given rise to new concept of 'age-friendly community'. This means creating an ideal scenario of all age groups staying together in a community with mutual respect and taking into account the needs and aspirations of all. These communities particularly take care of the special aspirations and expectations of elderly so that they can happily age.
Some of the specific domains of need of elderly that are taken care of in such age-friendly communities are:
Respect and inclusion
Housing facilities (taking care of special needs of elderly)
Transportation facilities (taking care of special needs of elderly)
Outdoor designing (taking care of special needs of elderly)
Health service and community welfare
This essentially means that these communities cater to all special needs of elderly so that people of all ages can stay together while meeting, to a large extent, the unique requirements of elderly.
The WHO Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities was launched in 2010 to propagate this particular cause. It has seen some progress, with 1,333 cities and communities from 47 countries getting connected through the above framework, impacting the lives of 298 million people. This is a great mission by the WHO to create a world-wide movement of developing networks of age-friendly cities and communities whereby people from all ages can live together while taking care of special needs of elderly. The network endeavors to inspire, connect, and provide assistance through developed models to create such communities on sustainable basis.
However, the movement has yet to reach many countries and cities and it will take quite some time before it becomes a truly global phenomenon. But the very idea is a great one as it has good benefits in terms of:
Allowing people from all ages to live together with a sense of understanding and respect.
Taking special care of the needs, both physical and emotional, of the elderly.
Building up a perfect model whereby the energy of youth and wisdom of elderly can co-exist and supplement each other.
Creating an ambience for happy aging for the elderly.
And finally, creating an ultimate world as 'one family'.
As one can see, the concept of age friendly cities and communities has a very powerful connotation as that can really change face of the world through creation of a perfectly happy co-existent livable world. But it must also be appreciated that we have miles to go in terms of convincing large number of countries, cities and communities to be part of this global movement. The mental block needs to be removed. And this is possibly the best way we can allow happy aging for elderly. Today’s youth will become elders of tomorrow. And therefore, this should be a saleable idea as it can create a world of unitary peace.