The age-friendly community movement has emerged as a powerful response to the rapidly growing aging population.
Although definitions of “age-friendly community vary, reflecting multiple approaches and methods, many models highlight the importance of strengthening social ties and promote a vision that takes into account all ages.
For example, Kofi Annan,who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, declared in the opening speech at the UN International Conference on Aging in 1999, “A Society for All Ages embraces every generation. It is not fragmented,with youths, adults, and older persons going their separate ways. Rather, it is age-inclusive, with different generations recognizing and acting upon their common interests.”
The World Health Organization and other international organizations further articulate this premise by defining aging as a lifelong process: “We are all aging at any moment in our life and we should all have the opportunity to do so in a healthy and active way.
To safeguard the highest possible quality of life in older age, WHO endorses the approach of investing in factors which influence health throughout the life course."
In practice, however, the age-friendly community movement has focused primarily upon the needs and interests of older adults and their caregivers and service providers.
In doing so, it has failed to gather enough data from youth and families about what produces good living conditions in a city or about opportunities for and barriers against working together with older adults.
What accounts for this gap between vision and practice?
One answer may lie in the common assumption of the age-friendly community movement that what is good for older adults is good for everyone.
In other words,if the age-friendly movement succeeds in making communities suitable for older adults, those communities will then be suitable for all generations.
While there are many shared interests among different generations, recent studies in the United States and Europe indicate that young adults and old adults differ in their voting patterns and attitudes more than at any time since the 1970s.
These studies suggest that in order to fully understand what constitutes a city that is friendly to people at different stages of the aging process, it is critical to gather data from multiple generations about what makes a city good for both growing up and growing older.