An environmental scan of age-friendly policies, initiatives and programs across Canada

Date: November 15, 2012
Times: 13h00 to 14h15 Eastern Time (Montréal)
Presenter: Ann Toohey

Objectives: (i) To review various approaches for planning for aging populations at the municipal level by examining a sample of major Canadian cities, and (ii) to analyze these activities for their potential impact on the health of older adult populations via promotion of physical activity and social engagement.
Method: Consulting with mentors from the City of Calgary, five major municipalities were purposively selected, including Calgary itself, as cases. Key documents were identified and reviewed, and key informants were interviewed by telephone for increased depth of understanding. Population health impact was assessed by considering the extent to which policies supported social inclusion and physical activity for a growing and increasingly diverse population of older adults. Policy implications were further considered within a framework developed by the National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy by discussing (i) effectiveness, (ii) unintended effects and equity, and (iii) cost, feasibility, and acceptability.
Findings: Several municipalities are developing planning strategies for aging populations, although approaches vary depending on municipal context. Cities that are undergoing simultaneous Age-Friendly movements (as per WHO guidelines) and whose civic leadership is both philosophically and fiscally supportive of older adult policy development are best positioned to successfully implement an older adult plan. Most age-friendly initiatives will benefit, rather than disadvantage, the entire population. If successfully implemented, age-friendly strategies will support healthy aging by allowing older adults to remain both physically and socially active in their communities.
Lessons learned: Several valuable insights were gained surrounding the flow of knowledge between academic and policy environments.
Questions for discussion:
1. In bridging academic population health research and policy research environments, how does one create a final report that satisfies the interests of both stakeholders, particularly in a situation where “health” is not considered to be part of the municipal mandate (as is the case in Alberta)?
2. The “lessons learned” component is intended to be interactive. I would like to reflect upon and discuss some of the lessons that I learned in working between the two institutions, including, as examples, different research norms practiced by municipalities vs. academia; the absence of peer-reviewed literature referenced by municipalities, who tend to rely on broader organizations like WHO, PHAC and StatsCanada, as well as their own public consultation processes; potential strengths and weaknesses of public consultation as informing policy development; the need to clarify language (e.g., my definitions of “policy” and “age-friendly were much broader than those of my municipal colleagues, which caused a bit of confusion for me at first), and several other items that PHIRNET trainees may find valuable to consider.