By Wendy MacMillan
(June 2020) – Age-friendly communities provide a supportive environment for older people to age “in place.”

In 2013, the Ontario government announced its Action Plan for Seniors. It is informed by a report called Living Longer, Living Well, by Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. Dr Sinha’s report focuses on three principals: healthy seniors; senior-friendly communities; and safety and security. As a side note, of relevance (at a time when 80 per cent of the Covid-19 deaths in Ontario have occurred in long term care homes) are Dr Sinha’s recommendations related to long term care at .

The concept of “senior-friendly communities” led the provincial government to make funding available to develop age-friendly community plans. A partnership of Elgin St. Thomas Public Health, the City of St. Thomas and the County of Elgin, received a grant to develop a plan here. Input was gathered from multiple providers and sources, including the Port Stanley Village Association (PSVA). The plan was finalised in the fall of 2017, then presented to various stakeholders including Central Elgin Council. I am a member of the Elgin St Thomas Age Friendly Community Advisory Committee, representing seniors and our community now that the plan is in the implementation phase.

What exactly is an age-friendly community, you ask? At a high level, it is one where “policies, services and structures, related to physical and social environments, support and enable older people to live and age in place, in a secure environment, enjoy good health, and continue to participate fully in their communities.”

Older people are typically classified by their functional abilities rather than arbitrary age groupings: well and fit seniors; seniors requiring some assistance with daily living activities; and seniors requiring 24-hour support. One focus of an age-friendly strategy is maintaining seniors in their present ability grouping and slowing down their transition to higher needs groups. In speaking to other seniors, I have heard over and over again their desire to live independently in their own home for as long as is practical, with supports of various kinds in the community to help them.

At a more detailed level, the Elgin St Thomas Age-Friendly Community Plan identifies the following needs and goals:

Housing – Appropriate seniors housing options, including affordable housing; reduced wait times for long term care; home maintenance supports, home care support and other strategies to help keep seniors in their homes and ageing in place;

Transportation – Intercommunity transit, shuttles, taxis, volunteers, car pooling; access to medical appointments and recreation; accessible parking; use of telemedicine, outreach and other technologies to reduce the need for transportation;

Health Care – Community healthcare centres; caregiver support, family involvement; coordination between service providers; system navigation; shorter wait times; cost relief for hearing, dental and vision care; mental health and dementia support; palliative and hospice care;

Recreation – More walking and cycling trails, dog parks, sports, social activities, education and entertainment; community centres; more access to activities for rural areas; transportation to venues;

Community Life – Opportunities to be involved and feel valued, either work or volunteering;

Community HUBS – caring neighbours, churches and community organisations; intergenerational activities; local stores and services, preferably close by; physical accessibility in the community to buildings, outdoor spaces, moving around and to stores and services.

I have some thoughts, ideas and updates on the Elgin St Thomas Age-Friendly Community Plan and the needs as they relate to our community and to the PSVA and I will talk about these next month.