top of page

Successful Aging: How to create a more age-friendly world

Dear readers.

I recently returned from Toronto where I attended and presented at a conference offered by the International Federation on Ageing.

More than 77 countries were represented with about 1,500 attendees from around the world. The theme was “Towards a Decade of Healthy Ageing,” with the goal of engaging stakeholders in meeting the challenges of global aging as well as those in their own communities.

Dr. John Beard, an Australian physician and director of the Department of Aging and Life Course at the World Health Organization, shared four lessons learned as he reflected on his past 10 years in a leadership role. These lessons are applicable in some way to each of us — as policy makers, advocates, service providers, educators, scientists, business people and just as everyday citizens who can make a difference.

1. Investment and commitment matter

Human and financial commitment and investment is responsible for creating about 700 age-friendly cities worldwide affecting the lives of 200 million people, according to Beard.

An age-friendly city optimizes opportunities for older adults to experience health, participation and security that enhance their quality of life. Here are a few the characteristics: safe sidewalks without cracks and bumps, benches at bus stops, reliable and affordable public transportation, home care services, affordable housing easily reached by public transportation, having outdoor space, employment opportunities and an effective long term care system, to name a few.

Such an environment makes it easy for older people to stay connected to those important to them, helping them to remain healthy and active even at the oldest age and providing support to those who can no longer look after themselves.

Note: Los Angeles City and County launched a two-year initiative to become an age-friendly region entitled Purposeful Aging: An Age Friendly Initiative.”

2. Nothing is possible without addressing ageism

Ageism is defined as prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. It affects our policies, hiring practices, advertising, the media, the entertainment industry, how we conduct research and even how we treat one another.

Even if we are unaware of such biases, negative thoughts about aging that we pick up from society may be cutting years of our lives, according to Becca Levy, the lead researcher of a study conducted at Yale University’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health.

Levy found that older people with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions. These findings create an even larger commitment to the current worldwide campaign to combat ageism.

3. Take on the mantle of political power

We often believe we can bring about change just with good intention. Beard says, “That’s not always true; what we need to do is to embrace power.”

This could mean becoming advocates and selecting leaders who understand the challenges facing older adults, including leaders in countries least able to adapt to the demographic changes.

4. We need a clear vision

We need environments and societies where older adults can live safely and can make their contributions. Countries need to be accountable to a vision that enables older adults to do what they want to do in a safe environment that embraces dignity and respect for all.

Then there was Hazel McCallion, chief elder officer of Revera, a company offering retirement living and long-term care services.

McCallion is 97 years old; three years ago she retired as mayor of Mississauga, a province in Ontario, Canada, and has moved on to her next career with Revera. She has been described as a hurricane and indeed she was — greeting the audience with a bellowing voice with a sprint in her walk.

McCallion meets with prospective Revera prospective residents in their homes promoting Revera services and discusses aging, retirement changes and living a life with purpose — regardless of age.

Perhaps the message is for companies who operate in the aging space to utilize the talents of older adults for outreach and feedback, particularly if older adults are the consumers of their services.

The conference was a reminder that aging is a global concern and opportunity, that emerging countries often don’t even have a word for retirement because folks cannot retire and that challenges of health and disability are accompanied with opportunities for change.

And, finally, that collaboration of knowledge, best practices and experiences consistently outweigh “going it alone.”

Contact Helen Dennis at

bottom of page