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Looking forward to growing older?

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Worldwide there is a dramatic shift in demographics as more people are living longer and birth rates fall in the developed world.   In London – where 32% of the population is under 25 – the number of people over 60 is projected to expand by 48% by 2035, while the population of the under 60s will only increase by 12%, according to a report by the mayor’s Design Advisory Group.

Lansons is partnering with the Agile Ageing Alliance to stage Neighbourhoods of the Future, taking place at NatWest HQ in central London on 11th and 12th May. The London event, is the first in a series of open innovation workshops presented by the European Commission in partnership with Innovate UK, which will take a fresh look at age friendly homes and communities as a means of tackling these sorts of demographic changes head-on. We will address topics as diverse as the changing aspirations of a growing ageing population, the emerging possibilities that smart homes and age friendly cities bring, as well as the role for alternative finance to drive new thinking in age-friendly housing and health. 

The event is part of a wider programme of innovation workshops that form part of a Europe wide consultation process orchestrated by the Agile Ageing Alliance under the direction of the UK’s Creative Skills for Life and Utrecht University. Outputs of the events will inform development of a European Reference Framework for Age-friendly Housing.   If you are interested in participating, please email agileageingevent@lansons.com to register for a place.  The full agenda is available here.  Tickets are available at no cost and it is advised to register without delay as spaces are limited.

Why is Lansons supporting this event and the broader aims of the Agile Ageing Alliance? The baby boomer generation have rising aspirations and expectations of what life will be like as they get older yet a big gap persists between current perceptions of what it is and what it could and should be like. In a recent survey Lansons  conducted with Opinium involving 2000 UK citizens, our findings showed that while over 80% of those aged 60 or over still feel young at heart, more than half of UK adults are not looking forward to getting older (51%) and only 1 in 10 of those aged 60 or over are looking forward to getting older.    Products and services for the older market do not resonate as well as they should either-   41% of those aged 60 or over feel patronised by how people their age are portrayed in advertising, and  77% of those aged 60 or over feel that travel and tourism services are mainly aimed at people younger than them.

With almost two-thirds (59%) of under 30s worried about growing old, there is an obvious need to shift the mindset towards more positive ground and reassure everyone  that ‘you can live well in old age’.   The good news is that opportunities brought about by demographic change are increasingly being recognised,  with innovation to make ageing “positive” getting into higher gear.

Despite the pressures on public services and budgets, particularly in social care, there are projects   underway to create age friendly communities, where the contribution of people in later life is valued and encouraged.  For example, the Centre for Ageing Better and Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA)  announced a five-year partnership in March  to develop and share innovative approaches to tackling social, economic and health inequalities in later life. 

The BetterLivesLeeds  project  is another example, geared at tackling key issues like social isolation and loneliness, a major focus in age-friendly city design. Nationally around 1 million older people regularly go an entire month without speaking to anyone according to Age UK– yet according to the national campaign against loneliness being lonely or socially isolated can have the same effect on a person’s health and wellbeing as smoking 15 cigarettes a day does on physical health.

The WHO defines an “age-friendly” city as one which ensures quality of life for people as they age by optimising opportunities for health, participation in society, and security. To develop these opportunities successfully, however,   the diversity of people in their older years also needs to be understood.  While some may have serious cognitive decline and need 24 hour care, others will be very active in their local communities, looking after their grandchildren or setting up businesses.

Life-long learning and volunteering should be more heavily promoted in retirement planning, since work is one way to tackle isolation. In their report, the mayor’s design advisory group in London advocates the creation of an “intergenerational start-up culture” that would connect experienced older people with younger entrepreneurs, acknowledging that many older people have the potential to become entrepreneurs themselves.

Better housing options, “lifetime neighbourhoods” and intergenerational support networks are also key areas to improve, and may help to keep older people healthier too.  Since lack of exercise can accelerate physical decline and lead to osteoporosis, obesity and other health problems, cities should encourage walking and cycling to prevent age-related declines in strength and fitness, according to an OECD report

Baby Boomers are retiring in a world surrounded with sensors, robotics and Internet of Things (IoT) but how can these innovations be best employed to improve quality of life and sustain independent living?  Nurturing mobility and exercise are core needs in age-friendly design is becoming ever more critical. Top global engineering firm Arup has looked at how authorities are responding to this demographic shift, and published their report, Shaping Ageing Cities, that highlights how cities must adjust in ways that respect, protect and fulfil the rights of older people to maintain their quality of life and happiness.  We are now seeing trends towards “multigenerational playgrounds”, with cities around  the world designing outdoor gyms and play areas suitable for old and young.

In the UK, the government has just announced the building of 10 new towns which will help to promote healthy ageing, encouraging people to exercise more, eat better and live independently into old age. The 10 towns selected, stretching from Darlington to Devon, will comprise more than 76,000 homes and 170,000 residents.  The NHS hopes that by helping to shape the way the towns are built it can begin to address major healthcare problems including obesity and dementia and establish a blueprint that will be followed elsewhere.    

These recent initiatives bode well to promote a society where we can look forward to growing older rather than dreading it- but leadership is required from government, business and a myriad of other stakeholders to explore the opportunities to completely redefine what people want from services as they go through their journey of ageing and how to pay for it.