Age-friendly aspirations 

Pemberton and Mount Currie will be first in province to use new study to develop senior and elder community plan

The B.C. government recently made “age-friendly” planning a provincial priority, but it looks like Pemberton may have beaten them to the punch.

On Monday, the International Day of Older Persons, the World Health Organization released its “Age-Friendly Cities Index”, a study that identifies physical, social and service aspects which contribute to an “age-friendly” environment.

The WHO findings were based on consultations with older people from 33 cities in 22 countries.

Two Canadian cities participated in the WHO study: Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saanich, British Columbia.

The Ministry of Health provided a $20,000 grant to Dr. Elaine Gallagher, director of the University of Victoria’s Centre on Aging, to coordinate the Saanich-area section of the study. Gallagher conducted eight focus groups with 65 seniors, caregivers, community leaders and service providers to assess how the community promotes active aging.

The completed international guide is primarily aimed at urban planners, but contains a checklist, which can be used to monitor “age-friendly” progress in any city.

“The initial project was to come up with the indicators,” explained Gallagher. “And now that that’s ready, the challenge is going to be for communities around the world to pick up on it and actually use it to generate ideas for their own communities.”

At a press conference held Monday in Saanich, Minister of Community Services, Ida Chong, announced the provincial government would be taking the next step, and planned to roll-out the “Age Friendly Cities Index” assessments in communities throughout British Columbia in the three years leading up to the 2010 Olympics.

“An age-friendly community benefits all residents, young and old alike. Secure neighbourhoods are safe for children, youth, women and older adults,” Chong said in a press release.

It looks like Pemberton will be the first community to get on-board with this latest initiative. They actually took steps to assess their community’s “age-friendliness” months ago, before the WHO report was released.

The joints Winds of Change committee, formed by members of the Mount Currie and Pemberton communities, received a $30,000 grant from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, which they used to hire Gallagher to help them develop a senior and elder community plan.

“Pemberton was the first community out of the starting gates to say ‘we want to do some work in this area,’” explained Gallagher.

“…It’s a very, very unique and very timely initiative that they identified at the same time that this other work was going on.”

Maxine Bruce, co-chair of the Winds of Change committee, said Winds of Change deals with more than drug and alcohol issues, they are working to make the communities of Pemberton and Mount Currie healthier and stronger.

Bruce said the senior and elder community plan is a “really exciting” study, and is an important new initiative.

“The concept of it is really positive,” said Bruce. “Our communities need to have an infrastructure that works for its members, and we noticed that there probably is a lot of room for growth in the area of seniors’ lives.”

While Pemberton and Mount Currie currently have a relatively small senior population, Gallagher says they are projected to be the fastest growing aging population in the province.

Gallagher said the community is going to “grow up very quickly,” so it’s important they begin making these considerations now.

So far, Gallagher has met with Mount Currie band members and Pemberton council representatives, and plans to come back next week to conduct focus groups with members of the community. She also plans to use the new guidelines from the WHO report to evaluate the communities, and said they will be the first test case in the province.

At Monday’s conference, Chong also announced that the provincial government would make $500,000 available to enhance age-friendly planning throughout the province.

This means that once communities like Pemberton have identified areas to improve upon, they may be eligible to receive funding for these initiatives.

Gallagher plans to wrap up the region’s senior and elder community plan and present her findings by the end of December.

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