In a recently published report on aging, the European Commission said it expects the proportion of the EU’s population aged 65 and up to rise from 19% to 29% by 2070, while the segment aged 80 and over will increase from 5% to 13%. At the same time, 80% of older people already live in urban areas. Demographic shifts and urbanization have created important challenges that need to be addressed to ensure a good quality of life for all generations while reducing inequalities and combating social exclusion.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), physical and social environments are the key determinants of whether people can remain healthy, independent and autonomous long into their old age. Cities, therefore, need to look at how to improve the likes of outdoor spaces and the built environment, housing and health services for older citizens.
Making cities more age-friendly will allow everyone to grow and get older in better health and to remain active and autonomous for longer. This contributes to lowering the gap between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, which remains about 15 years for men and 20 years for women across the EU. This means we spend on average between 15 and 20 years of our later life with a disabling health condition.
Making cities smarter doesn’t just mean using new technologies for public service delivery and innovative infrastructure. It is also about creating opportunities and places where citizens can come together, move around easily and access the services they need. In that sense, cities can only be smart if they are also age-friendly.
Access to services, particularly health and social care, is an essential part of this process. Many concerns that older people and their caregivers raise are linked to the availability of sufficient good quality, appropriate and accessible care. There are many projects and pilot programs springing up across Europe that are pointing in the right direction, but more must be done in terms of engaging older citizens in the creation of new services if they are going to achieve the kind of take-up these challenges demand.