Age-Friendly was one of the many threads of dialogue woven through the four central themes at the International Federation on Ageing 14th annual conference in Toronto last month. As a supporter specifically of the age-friendly community aspect (which I prefer to call age inclusive), I could have chosen from any one of the over twenty-five sessions that featured just that alone, with variations of phrases like age-friendly planning, neighbourhood design, environments and networks.
The World Health Organization (WHO), originator of the 2007 Global Age-Friendly Cities guide, held three workshops over the course of the three-day conference, but even though I am an ardent follower of this WHO movement, I couldn’t cover all that was on offer, and still leave room for other topics I wanted to learn more about. As fate would have it, for the last session on the last day, I changed my mind on one of the age-friendly community sessions I had flagged to see, in order to catch another on relatively the same topic. So happy I made the switch.
Flipping through the program before lunch, I noticed the name Peter Whitehouse MD, PhD as co-presenter in a workshop titled Active ageing through the life course in age friendly environments. This threaded another interest of mine, the life course model. Throughout the conference, I had seen and heard Whitehouse ask questions a few times in plenary sessions, and alerted by how he prefaced his questions around intergenerational ideals within other broader contexts of aging and a longevity society, I wanted to hear more.
One shining example of intergenerational connectivity
Sometimes disappointingly, one-line workshop descriptions don’t quite indicate what you really end up hearing about. In this case the title, sounding rather general in its appeal, covered a more specific aspect of active ageing by promoting intergenerational connectivity, which is one aspect that gets either a passing mention and more often gets lost when you read through the pages of age friendly community strategies.
This workshop built around the Age-Friendly Cleveland story and it opened with a presentation of that city’s strategy by Terry Hokenstad, Professor Emeritus at Case Western Reserve University. He essentially laid out a mid-term update on the Cleveland three-year period taking it through 2019 with a very specific manageable implementation plan. Action oriented, the Cleveland plan follows the accepted WHO eight elements of an age-friendly city concept as its foundation.
However, the highlight of this workshop was listening to Peter Whitehouse discuss how the Intergenerational Schools in Cleveland worked to promote healthy ageing across the life course, and by that I take it to mean the way it fosters social participation, respect and inclusion, two of the main elements of the WHO model.
Let there be no dispute after you watch this brief Intergenerational School video, that social interaction between children and older adults provides mental health benefits, in particular in this case through mentoring, teaching and shared life-long learning. Whitehouse uses his larger term intergenerativity to define what happens within the shared site programs of these schools.
Inspiring way to end a conference, attending a workshop – impromptu.
Both highly personable professors, Terry and Peter led real engaged conversation with the people in the full to capacity breakout room. A gentleman from India was present in the workshop who highlighted the work he was doing on intergenerational initiatives in cooperation with Peter Whitehouse. Further evidence of his intergenerational model at work in India is in this 2016 article Intergenerational knowledge centres to boost PM Modi’s ‘Digiital India” campaign.
There are other examples of intergenerational initiatives beginning to surface other than schools, for example, the trend towards intergenerational co-housing. However, this trend is not new as I first heard of it in the UK about five or so years ago, but it is quickly becoming a movement which fits neatly within another major element of the WHO age-friendly city concept – Housing. More on that another day.
All this to say, that it was a gift to hear Terry and Peter and the Cleveland story as an impromptu end to a long thought provoking IFA conference. For it also reinforced my thinking that the WHO age-friendly community global network, with now over 700 member cities engaged, needs a reboot for the next decade. Recognizing the intent to focus on the unique needs of an older adult population, it should, in a stronger way infuse the intergenerational opportunity into the narrative.
Age Friendly IS Intergenerational.