Conceptualizing Age-Friendly Communities

The idea that the environment in which older adults live profoundly impacts their lives has a long history in gerontology. Research has focused less on the macro environment – neighbourhood/community, region, or urban-rural localities. In contrast, on the political and policy front, there has been increasing interest in Canada and internationally regarding the community environment and how it might promote healthy aging. In discussing “age-friendly” communities, we will build on the World Health Organization definition that an age-friendly community is one in which “policies, services, settings and structures support and enable people to age actively.” More specifically, our purpose here is to examine age friendly communities from an ecological perspective. Although the need to consider the older adult within the context of his or her environment is an underlying premise of age-friendly communities, ecological theory has not been systematically applied to the concept in the literature to date. By framing our discussion in an ecological context, we aim to make explicit key issues related to the interplay between the person and the environment that are usefully considered in order to advance age-friendliness research or policy decisions.