The Chathan-Kent Age Friendly Action Plan

Senior Couple Walking In ParkCanada is a wonderful place to live. Imagine for a moment that you have lived your entire life here. You have worked, raised a family, given back to your community while building a lifetime of memories, experiences and pride. Now imagine for a moment that after all of that, you no longer feel welcome in your community. Imagine feeling so unwelcome, that you live your life confined to your home, unable to get by day to day without help.


Just as in communities around the country, this scenario is a reality for many older residents in Chatham-Kent. It also represents a stark warning regarding the kind of future younger residents unknowingly have to look forward to in their futures. Worse still, it is entirely preventable.

We do not tell our elder residents in words that they are not welcome in our community. It is not a deliberate act but rather the sum of unintended consequences. It is merely the result of organizing our community in the way that we have done for decades that has made Chatham-Kent, like so many other places, age un-friendly.

It is not surprising that the needs of seniors were not top of mind when services and infrastructure were designed. After all, when these programs and structures were conceived and built, older age groups represented only a small minority of the overall population, and their needs were therefore not considered a priority.

In 1950, the average life span for men in Canada was 63, and 67 for women. Today it is about 80. In 1971, one-half of the population was age 25 and under, but by 2011 one-half of the population is 40 and over. As recently as 1981, less than 9% of the population of Canada was age 65 and over, while today it is 14%. In Chatham-Kent alone, the over 65 crowd is projected in the next 20 years to rise to nearly 30% of the population.

What does it mean for a community when such a large percentage of the population is older – soon in Chatham-Kent’s case nearly one in three – and confronting an age un-friendly environment? What does it do to individuals, or to families, to businesses and over-stretched social service providers? How do we respond?

The World Health Organization (WHO) studied this issue and concluded that age un-friendly community design has a profound negative impact on the average person, including:
· An inability to remain physically and socially active as one ages,
·An inability to find and get services you need,
· Early on-set of age related health problems & diseases, and the costs that go with them,
· Increasing isolation as people choose to stay home,
· Dependency on family and social services to meet simple day to day needs,
· Poor quality of life and shorter life expectancy.

They recommend that communities address change in 8 key determinants of Age Friendliness:
· Outdoor Spaces and Buildings
· Housing
· Transportation
· Social Participation
· Respect and Social Inclusion
· Civic Participation and Employment
· Communication and Information
· Health and Community Services

Focusing change in these 8 areas can prevent, repair and reverse the damage (be it physical, mental, social or financial) created by living in such a community.

This work represents one of the great challenges of the 21st century. The aging demographic is not a temporary Baby Boomer tsunami, but represents the “new normal” as modern medicine and healthy lifestyles rapidly increases human life expectancy. Our response therefore needs to take the long view, implementing change over decades, and re-evaluating our Action Plan as society’s needs evolve.

Under the guidance of the Seniors Advisory Committee and with generous funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, we will start by talking directly to older residents of Chatham-Kent about their lives today. What can we do better to help them access services, shop, play, travel and otherwise live life with dignity and respect?

The feedback we receive from older adults will inform the recommendations to come in Chatham-Kent’s Age Friendly Action Plan. To address all of the concerns identified in the WHOs 8 key determinants of age-friendly communities we need to take a holistic approach. Everyone will have a role to play as the fixes for this problem will cut across all sectors (private and public) and all levels of society.

From Spring through Fall of 2014, we will conduct a comprehensive survey and a series of focus groups for the general public. These focus groups will take place at a variety of locations around the Municipality to dig down into these critical issues and capture the needs unique to each geographic region. We invite you to take part.

More information about the survey and focus groups will be made public in the New Year. Watch your local paper, and keep an eye on the Chatham-Kent Seniors Web Portal for further details as they become available.

For more details or to volunteer your time to the cause, please contact Devin Andrews, Age Friendly Project Coordinator, 519-354-8103,


· In 1950, average life expectancy in Canada was 63 years for men and 67 for women. Today it is 80.

· In 1971, one-half of the Canadian population was 25 years old or younger. Today, one-half is 40 years old or older.

·In 1981, 9% of the Canadian population was age 65 or older. Today it is 14%. In Chatham-Kent, it is expected to rise to nearly 30% of the population over the next 20 years.

· 1959 was the year during the Baby Boom when the largest number of babies were born. This cohort will turn 60 before the end of the decade.

· 20% of the New York City workforce is over the age of 55. This stat is reflected in all sectors. 4 generations now work side by side in the workplace.

· The New York Academy of Medicine predicts that a person entering the workforce today will have the ability to work 60 years.

· A Danish health study predicts that one-half of all the children born in Denmark in 2009 will live to or past 100.

· A European Union Health Commission study reveals France has the highest longevity rates in the EU. Today in France, a 72 year old can expect to live another 15 years. By 2050, that rate will have increased and a person can then expect to live another 15 years starting at age 78.

· Close to one in five people, 20%, are over the age of 60. However, this same group possesses 50% of all disposable income in society and, 70% of all wealth. When they shop they are not specifically seeking “old person” services. BUT despite that, only slightly more than 10% of all marketing is directed at these consumers.

For more information visit the The Chatham-Kent Age Friendly Action Plan

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