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Is your community age-friendly?

Aging population focus of research

By Michelle Osmond

According to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the population of this province is aging fast. Over the last 30 years, it has aged faster than any other province in the country and according to Statistics Canada, it will have the largest percentage of seniors by 2026.

In 2003, the province revealed Our Blueprint for the Future and, in it, health aging is a priority. The Healthy Aging Policy Framework is meant to prepare the province to respond to the needs of seniors. Part of this framework is the Age-Friendly Newfoundland and Labrador Grant program which gives money to communities and organizations to form committees and evaluate their age-friendliness.

Recently, the provincial government held an Age-Friendly Newfoundland and Labrador Communities Forum, which was attended by grant recipients. Dr. Wendy Young was also invited as the lead researcher with Memorial’s Age-Friendly Communities Research Team. Their goal is to look at differences in age-friendliness and over time, examine whether communities become more age-friendly and if people are healthier because of this.

Dr. Young is Memorial’s Canada Research Chair in Healthy Aging and an assistant professor with the School of Nursing. She says this invitation was a very important milestone for the team and will help them a great deal with their community connections that are vital to their age-friendly research.

“Logically, if you live in an age friendly community, you have access to healthier food, more programs and therefore less chronic illness,” she said. “You need the methods to measure whether it’s working and we have the skills to collect data and analyze that data.

“Our team is very interested in reaching out to communities. We want to be seen as a resource and because much of this work has only been done with large cities, we can offer a lot.”

As a research team that’s part of an international movement, the Memorial team received a $20,000 Healthy Aging Research Program seed grant and they’ve leveraged this, in partnership with researchers from British Columbia, to apply for a $2 million grant to find out what tools are being used worldwide to assess age-friendliness. “We’d like to do comparisons with BC and other provinces, as well as Ireland. There are also opportunities to collaborate with countries such as China and India which have age-friendliness programs in place.”

The Memorial team is made up of Drs. Young, Catherine Donovan, Veeresh Gadag, Sandra MacDonald, Nigel Simms, and Nigel Waters from George Mason University in the U.S. They are already collaborating with communities throughout the province such as Grand Falls-Windsor, St. John’s, and the town of St. Lawrence where Mayor Wayde Rowsell recognizes what an important resource the team will be. “I’m very much looking forward to our collaboration on this. I know it’s going to be about taking down fences and creating a friendlier neighbourhood. With partners such as Memorial we believe this will be a success story for all citizens.”