COLUMN: Aging population needs assistance

Developing and restructuring communities to prepare for an aging population is an important step to ensuring they continue to serve the population’s needs in the future.

The World Health Organization created a checklist of essential features needed for age-friendly cities. They fall under eight categories: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information; and community and health services.

An age-friendly city is defined by WHO as one that has an “inclusive and accessible environment that promotes active aging”. The items were identified to help prepare cities for the aging population and increased urbanization.

Some features include creating sidewalks that have non-slip surfaces, are wide enough for wheelchairs and have curbs that drop to road level. The list recommends services are situated together and are accessible, buildings have sufficient seating and ramps. It also stresses the importance of reliable and affordable public transportation systems.

The features listed by WHO are items that are not only important to ensure an aging population is able to continue to be actively involved and navigate the community, but also to ensure everyone can participate regardless of their age, financial situation or physical ability.

I can’t remember how many times I have driven down the streets of Nanaimo to see a person in a wheelchair or motorized scooter forced to go on the side of the road instead of using the sidewalk where they may have more protection and separation from motorists.

The problem with the sidewalks on these streets is they are too narrow, and often a telephone pole is stuck in the middle, which people in wheelchairs or scooters have difficulty navigating. The poles also pose as obstacles for people with walkers.

Driving past the Bowen Road expansion project area every day I see the new sidewalks the city has added are wide and don’t have obstacles situated in the middle of the pathway.

It’s too bad more sidewalks in the community can’t be like that, but it comes down to money – and money is tight and taxpayers can only carry so much on their financial plates. Yet these kinds of sidewalks are needed.

There are plans by many communities to create trail networks where people can traverse the area and not have to be on busy roads.

These initiatives are positive for the community; however, I can’t see my grandmother – off-roading with her walker – traversing these trails. Wide, paved surfaces are a friendly feature she needs to have to get around her community and for her daily walks she takes for exercise.

She still has her driver’s licence, but I know she worries it may be taken away from her at some point as she gets older.

It worries her that she won’t be able to easily go to the grocery store and pick up items, or travel across town for a doctor’s appointment with her car. Public transit is touted as a good option to navigate the city; however, I know she won’t be able to physically carry the amount of groceries she normally buys onto the bus.

She gets tired easily and that type of exertion would be a little too much for her. Many grocery stores have started home delivery service, but going to the store and buying her own items helps her continue to feel independent.

Last month I attended a roundtable hosted by the NDP where people from the community brought forward their issues and concerns such as seniors connecting with home care, assisted living or access to services that will continue to allow them to age in their homes.

Such roundtables are important to help bring awareness to the issue and help people connect with services and feel like they’re part of the community.

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