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As with most subjects in our times, the subject of ageing in place is diverse, multi-faceted or if you will, so broad in its narrative for anyone to speak about it appropriately in a 30 second soundbite. And after attending the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) one-day conference Envisioning Ageing in Place in Toronto on November 23rd, it became even more apparent, that in order for the general public to appreciate it, the story does need to be unpacked.

While the panel presenters conducted the unpacking exercise fairly well at this NIA conference over a full day, (all be it at a fast pace), it is important that we understand how every element is inter-connected; and that the way we view ageing in place takes on many individual preferences or perspectives. The other thing to remember is that over time in our later life continuum, that place, that home if you will, may change; our needs will change as our circumstances change incrementally, such as our health condition.

At what stage and time does someone become proactive about, (as the title of one panel discussion described), “future-proofing” housing? That’s only one way of asking the question about ageing in place, which is put in the context of home design and renovation for the eventuality of delivering accessible home care and self-ability to stay and live in home for as long as possible.

Even before that question, at an earlier stage of later life such as late 50’s, when health is reasonably good and an active life of work and other social or community engagement continues, the proactive question may be about “where do we want our place, our home, our community to be – at least in the foreseeable future?” Our sense of place is subject to constant review as our life course evolves.

There was talk at the conference about the current dialogue Canadians over age 50 are having about either moving to a smaller town or downsizing to a smaller home or condo. Great options exist for those fortunate, reasonably affluent and socially connected individuals but the other side of the story, which is gathering more attention is the concern around affordable housing for those on low or fixed incomes.

In many cases for those facing an advanced stage of later life with limited ability to finance their longevity, the options for ageing in place appear less than attractive or feasible – as things stand now, whether it’s the where of the place and/or the how of the delivery of services in home. However, while there are positive examples that are emerging today, where communities are waking up to the future, there is still a slow movement on the part of municipalities to address the opportunities of improving the options.

Glenn Miller, Senior Associate at the Canadian Urban Institute commented at the front end of the panel titled – “Shifting Towards Inclusive Municipal Planning Processes & land Use Policies to be More Effectively Support Ageing in Place”, that while 500 communities across Canada have embraced the 2007 WHO Age Friendly Cities (AFC) framework, “the planning departments of those municipalities have not taken the obvious step of acknowledging the AFC commitment in their land use plans.”

Obvious opportunity indeed, as we look forward; opportunity to make this ageing in place, ageing in community a prominent issue in our upcoming 2018 Ontario election cycle, both provincial and municipal. Yet as I have since moved on from the NIA conference with time to think, it strikes me that affordable and accessible housing is more than a political or social issue for older adults.

Talking with others in younger age groups these days, the highlight on housing is just as important to them, even if ageing in place is not the lens they are looking through right now. As I read it, the spirit of the WHO Age Friendly movement is an inter-generational affair. In many cases it is also the younger adults who are helping their older parents with ageing in place decisions. Yes, the search for innovative approaches to housing, home and community design is our common thread.

Mark Venning

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As a norm, I usually don’t recommend a new book until after I read it through, however I make an exception here as I do eagerly anticipate one that I’ve had on pre-order for the last month or so. Next week will see the release of The Longevity Economy by Dr. Joseph Coughlin of MIT’s Age Lab. Much has been made of this market for a number of years, and though largely seen as a made in America story, it is truly global in nature.

Some have called it the Silver Economy, but I prefer Longevity Economy as it really reflects broader market segmentation opportunity for all ages, not just silver-headed Boomers. And therein lies the problem that Coughlin’s sub-title for the book suggests to help solve – Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market.

No doubt this is a book that businesses, as well as non-profits and other public services I might suggest, should benefit from as they try to right the ship in their marketing strategies. Yet I expect that this read may help consumers better understand how their lives are shaping in a longevity economy. There are many market disconnects, that as one of the promo lines for the book says, where Coughlin “pinpoints the gap between myth and reality”

Perhaps more timely now, this book will hopefully sit nicely as my companion piece to the wonderful book by Kim Walker and Dick StroudMarketing to the Ageing Consumer 2013.

In April 2012 I heard Dr. Coughlin speak at a Business of Aging Summit in Toronto at the MaRS Discovery District. He does engage an audience and his observations make you think. His open question in his MaRS talk, echoed the voice of Theodore Roszak in his book Longevity Revolution – “Now that we’re living much longer, what will we do with all our extra time?” As Roszak said – “it’s time we start finding a good social use for those extra years.”

With those questions in mind, and the fact that the demographic numbers of a current fifty-plus market have not yet really reached an “older age”; there is much to discover about how this not so homogeneous group of consumers/citizens will shape their promise of longevity. And therefore, plenty of reason why those who live, serve and sell in a longevity economy will need to grasp this most misunderstood market.

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One year after their first conference, the Ryerson based National Institute on Ageing is holding a one-day event in Toronto on November 23rd – Envisioning Ageing in Place. This is good to see especially because the NIA has taken a focused approach on one topic area as a drill down from the wider sweeping event held last November. Planet Longevity members will attend again this year.

Communities are now and into the future going through significant redesign as we consider how, not only older populations will be making new choices on how they want to live, but also younger generations. It’s a mistake to think that this discussion about “options for ageing in place” is only about “ageing Boomers” as the note for one of the opening speakers suggests.

As I repeatedly say, decisions we make today about overall community design, individual home design and alternative options for adapting for ageing in place are just as much a concern for those in Gen-X who are now entering their 50’s and are serving in roles as caregivers for older parents. And for that matter even those south of age 40, are watching and listening even though it may not appear so.

The four panel presentations at the 2017 NIA conference look quite solid and should not only be of relevance to the individual but especially for those whose business or career focus is on serving the changing needs of an ageing population as the years ahead unfold. In many ways in fact, we have not really reached the crest of the demographic curve where those Boomers meet their older age.

Yet, this is all the more reason why we should think ahead on this matter of envisioning ageing in place. How will this trend play out? How, for example, will Real Estate agents interact more effectively when older clients decide a downsize move? How would a network of municipal planners, realtors, home designers and contractors work to present a unified offering in partnerships with care consultants and community services?

Later life living is not going to be an even experience for everyone, in spite of how advertising messages currently present “adult living” or “retirement living” to silver haired, smiling, affluent, reasonably healthy agile “seniors”. How will ageing in place accommodate everyday people as they age, who will potentially be unable to do so for whatever reason, healthily or financially? That question is of growing importance.

With that in mind for me therefore, the final NIA conference panel of the day will be one that merits more focus, longer than the hour allows. Lisa Salapatek, the Chief Program & Public Policy Officer at the Alzheimer Society of Ontario will lead the discussion on Emerging Residential Models for Complex and/or Specialized Populations to Age in Place. Of course Alzheimer’s as huge a concern as we know it to be, is but one of the many pieces that may live alongside other conditions in this complexity.

While technologies for ageing in place will likely thread discussions at this conference, the fact that this theme appears to be absent from the preliminary agenda is not bothersome, in the sense that while it cannot be excluded from the equation, it certainly gets more than its share of attention at other designated events. Everything considered, this conference is worthy of attending. Ageing in place is increasingly becoming a major part of everyday family conversations.

Mark Venning

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You could say that we in Canada are now, either speaking up more loudly, or finally catching up with the rest of the world around discussing the effect of aging demographics on our social policies and structures. Many countries have led before us with a more fully developed national conversation and subsequent revisions to their social policies that address the obvious changes required to health care, pension reform and workforce development.

While there has been enough, other prickly world news to occupy our mind share over this past few years, in the last several months, quietly but steadily there have been more calls from various groups, government bodies and concerned individuals, that Canada must develop a National Seniors Strategy.

As a prime example, in June 2017, Senate Canada published a report by their Standing Committee on National Finance on Canada’s Aging Population – titled Getting Ready: For a new generation of active seniors. This tidy 24-page report sets a platform for an intelligent and inclusive discussion that could be facilitated anywhere across the country, an invitation to all age groups I might stress, rather than one narrowly designed for a seniors only audience.

Certainly, there is well-articulated content in this document, but rather than recite the statistics and recommendations here, I suggest you read it for yourself. However there are a few comments worth noting that will help frame how we should open our minds before we get into any dialogue that would potentially lead us down a path of opinionated responses based on “what was” thinking, but rather lead us to constructive possibility thinking, the “what now, how now?”

In the “reflect thoughtfully first” category, let me pluck out some significant lines from the Senate Canada report:

  • Repercussions of population aging are as much social at they are economic in nature
  • Population aging is not a uniform phenomenon
  • There are groups…more vulnerable within the larger group we call seniors. When we treat this population as homogeneous, we tend to neglect the sometimes more precarious situation of certain groups…

It is an understatement to say that Canada is geographically a huge country, more culturally diverse, with regional social and economic differences and now we can add to that layering – demographic differences.

There are several, simple info-graphics in the report that help spell out the uneven nature of aging across Canada, and as Laurent Martel states in the report, “when considering demographics, the national trend often hides regional differences… important to consider when assessing the public policy implications of such demographics… such regional differences are also currently increasing.”

All this makes for an interesting ride, if we are to take a National Seniors Strategy on a road show dialogue around the country.  Not to be a pessimist, I’m having a hard time imagining who would facilitate such an event without it becoming another series of heated town-hall arguments, and poorly advertised grass-roots public consultations that only lead to another dry series of studies and reports. This can’t be just another insider forum of politicians, academics and policy makers.

Motion 106 & Demand a Plan

At the same time as the Senate Canada effort, in May 2017, in the House of Commons, MP Marc Serré’s private members’ Motion 106, was passed, asking to create a study to develop a National Seniors Strategy. Is he talking with the Senate right now? The Canadian Medical Association is backing all this too, as evidenced by their participation in the Senate report and the Demand a Plan movement on their website.

No one entity owns this turf on this subject. There is the National Seniors Strategy group, promoting this with its own framework, has been around since 2013; and the National Institute on Aging at Ryerson – which held a conference in November 2016 – has supported this initiative.

Others entities such as another decade-old Canadian government creation, the National Seniors Council, and CARP have chimed in with their various takes on this for years. However, maybe it is time, while we consider our regional complexities, we should remember the input from those now in their 40’s and 50’s who we will inherit the outcomes of any national strategy decisions. Their “out there” future likely will require more frequent recalibrations than we’ve had before.

Yet on we go, still framing the future within yesterday’s terms of reference and points of view. Without changing the language that highly changeable future realities will demand of new generations, we may lose the engagement of people who don’t see themselves in a demographic box called seniors any time soon, even though they realize they will have to have some strategy.

The Senate Canada report says, get ready “for a new generation of active seniors”. If that further suggests that senior-hood, is not a uniform phenomenon, and life expectancy is stretching from what we’ve known – then maybe what we could really call for is a National Longevity Strategy.

My hunch is that this might catch more ideas from people well under that mythic 65, who are sometimes uncomfortably aware that they will be living, learning and working longer – and differently, which will prompt them to think harder about appropriate policy changes in any national strategy that will benefit them up the road.

Mark Venning

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In follow-up to the Planet Longevity July blog post Age-Friendly: Ten Years On, 2007-2017, here it is fitting and timely that we now have our hands to share the Peterborough, Ontario – Age-Friendly Community Action Plan, released in June 2017. This plan summary is a wonderful piece of work, reflecting the careful and thoughtful process this community engaged in over a number of years, further supported through a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

One of the striking things that pops out immediately in the reading is the language of inclusiveness and in particular referring to the ongoing needs of “older adults”. Full praise for the consistency of use of this term, as it lends itself to imagine a population that is broader and more diverse in nature than what that tired word seniors evokes. Language is a quirky thing. You even hear younger adults now say how tired they are, being referred to as millennials.

At the risk of creating a distraction from the positive message of the Age-Friendly movement, for a moment it is worth poking the dialogue to say that while there are those who don’t take any exception to being called a senior, there is however another newer wave of older adults out there who are less inclined to identify with that. Let future proponents of the Age-Friendly movement take note.

Though seniors is referenced in the content, which can’t be helped based on historical usage, it does not in this document take away from the underlying message of Age-Friendly. Having read and viewed a number of the Age-Friendly plans and websites, this Peterborough stands as a model example of how the language of age-friendly can connect the dots more succinctly for a wider audience.

Noteworthy praise goes to Peterborough for weaving the inter-generational connections in its Age-Friendly plan (Page 35) while at the same time as recognizing the urban and rural distinctions of the greater region – and capturing the voice of the First Nations community which again is inclusive in the scope of the plan. Regionally and certainly within larger cities this cultural aspect is a significant part of the conversation that will need more attention as it fits within the eight dimensions of the 2007 WHO Age Friendly model.

Age-Friendly Peterborough is worth the download to read and learn.

Mark Venning

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Some global movements start up with all the best of intentions, but not all pick up traction, or given enough time to develop in the collective mind-share of the public. Initiatives such as Habitat for Humanity for example, which has roots going back to the mid 1970’s, stand out largely because the concept serves a basic need everyone, can immediately identify with  anywhere around the world; and of course gather celebrity endorsement and participation from the likes of people such as US President Jimmy Carter.

Planet Longevity, since our beginning, continues to promote the Age-Friendly Cities initiative as first introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007. In 2015, we did a three part blog series titled Age Friendly Canada: Time for a Reboot suggesting that we still had a long way to go to elevate the awareness of what has steadily become a global movement.

Now ten years on, (checking out the WHO Age-Friendly World website) – there are now 500 communities that have adopted this movement in 37 countries. Canada has 59 communities at various stages of development. My city, the Town of Oakville is not yet there. Time for more than a nudge to get us past the rudimentary public “survey stage”.

As was referenced in our October 2015 post, one of our Planet Longevity members Suzanne Cook, became a participant in two of 56 community grant projects awarded in the Ontario the Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant Program. Suzanne has served in an academic research advisory role for Cobourg and Peterborough, Ontario as these communities conducted needs assessments with an eye to develop action plans for age-friendly programs.

In the case of Peterborough, as reported in the June 23 Examiner “Age-Friendly Peterborough plan takes shape”, the process seems to have gone beyond the assessment phase and is now in front of their city council for adoption. As Trent University’s Elizabeth Russell, Faculty Fellow with the Trent Centre for Aging & Society, is quoted in the article: “…evidence… shows us that this type of planning is much more effective in the longer term…”

True enough, but taking a leaf from the book in the Habitat experience, the marketing messaging on Age-Friendly Communities could take on a sharper tone, for the basic human need for healthy active aging is relevant to all generations. Inter-generational connections is mentioned as one part of the Peterborough vision, but in order for that to happen, the language of age-friendly needs to connect the dots more succinctly than it currently does in order for the movement to grow into the next decade.

Mark Venning

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As an update to the November 2016, National Institute on Ageing (NIA) Re-think Ageing conference, earlier this month the NIA finally pulled together a summary, Proceedings and Event Report, which accurately describes the entire two days content presenting a full range of the elements in the current social narrative on ageing in Canada.

Over two days, the conference was constructed around the four pillars in the National Seniors Strategy for Canada. One of the goals the NIA set out to achieve was to “broaden the policy dialogue on key issues by purposefully including older adults in the conversation” – that is to say others who are not directly working in the field of ageing such as academics, service providers and product developers.

Based on the success of this event, the NIA is planning a second conference in November 2017, though dates have yet to be announced. Last year, three of us from the Planet Longevity group attended and in one case presented on Day 1 of the conference, and I expect we might again. Personally speaking I hope that the massive structure of the panels and idea bank sessions will be broken down – fewer topics, smaller groups – with more time for well-facilitated conversation.

As I commented after last year, one of the benefits of attending the first NIA conference was meeting people who have a shared enthusiasm for the subject matter, in all its diversity; but the format of the breakouts did not provide enough time for quality interaction, time to confer. Having planned and orchestrated conferences over the years, the lesson is that big isn’t always better.

A supporting sponsor organization for the Ryerson University based NIA, is the International Federation on Ageing (IFA). As it happens, the IFA is holding its global conference in Toronto – August 8-10, 2018. While both these conferences, several months apart in the same city, may attract different audience segments, it will be interesting to see how different, and dare I suggest more robust the content will be for the NIA conference this November.

Given all this choice, depending on your professional interests, there is only so much specialized content you can digest and if you only have so much time and financial investment for these learning opportunities, then you need to clearly see the differentials for why you would attend one or both of these events.

In some ways, an NIA conference in November 2017 could be seen as a prelude to the August 2018 IFA event. As both organizations share the agenda on the “healthy aging” conversation for example, it would make sense to me that if the NIA is going to produce something first, then it should look for ways to present a more focused discussion on something other than healthy aging.

My suggestion for the NIA would be to do a one-day conference with the focus on the two complimentary pillars in the National Seniors Strategy – Care Closer to Home & Support for Caregivers. This issue alone is worth a deeper dive and it truly is an inter-generational concern, not merely a seniors-centric issue. Based on a recent experience designing a small inter-generational panel, I see huge potential for taking the caregiving agenda out to millennials and Gen-X for better insight, and for that matter, greater action.

Whatever the decision, I would encourage the NIA to announce their dates, theme and agenda before September. Time waits for no one and the August 2018 IFA event is tapping my interest already.

Mark Venning

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