We are living longer. One in three children born today will live to 100. This is a remarkable achievement.
The question is, how do we make the most of longer lives while responding to the pressures of an ageing population?
The government has outlined a ‘Healthy Ageing Grand Challenge’ to give everyone five extra years of good health, freedom from disability, plus a smaller health gap between richest and poorest.
Central government has a part to play, but it is local authorities which have the tools to make this happen in our communities:
1) Align housing, health and care
Joined-up thinking on housing, health and care is hugely beneficial. Local government, as well as developers, planners and retailers, can lead the way on thinking holistically about how policies interact.
We can do more to adapt housing stock. Research shows low-cost adaptations can have a real impact if made early and if people have a say in what happens to their home. And by enforcing accessibility standards, we can ensure new homes are ‘age-proof’ and adaptable for current and future generations.
Getting this right can reduce pressure on health and care services and help people live independently for longer.
2) Make neighbourhoods more connected
Contributing to communities – whether through volunteering, formal civic roles or small acts of neighbourliness – can strengthen wellbeing and social connections in later life.
Breaking down barriers to engagement, for example by establishing Neighbourhood Networks or investing in accessible transport, can thus give older people the tools to remain active.
These networks can help reduce isolation and connect us to advice and services which promote health and wellbeing – improving quality of life.
3) Join age-friendly communities network
A great first step for local authorities is joining the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities – a growing movement of places like Greater Manchester, Newcastle and Brighton making changes and sharing learning of what works locally.
In an age-friendly community, local government consults with older people, voluntary and community organisations, businesses and others to make their local area a great place to grow old. It really works when you engage with residents, identifying how best to help them get the most from later life.
Developed by the World Health Organization, the age-friendly network approach is internationally recognised and evidence-based. Joining offers access to a wealth of global examples and learning.
Clearly, what works in one place won’t be the same everywhere else, and local authorities are best-placed to deliver what older people in their area will value most.
That’s why it’s from the local level that we will most easily make Britain a better place to be in later life.
If you are interested in hearing more about the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities, contact Natalie Turner at AFC.Network@ageing-better.org.uk.