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‘Our cities cannot become age-friendly without considering technology’ – paper investigates the need for improvements in urban design

Academics from The Open University and The Hague University of Applied Science have published a paper with recommendations for a new smart age-friendly environment for developed cities in the western world. Building on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) original model, the new proposed framework considers the rapid pace in which technology develops.

According to the Office of National Statistics, the UK’s population is ageing, with an additional 8.6 million people expected to reach 65 years and over in the next 50 years. Although the increase of our ageing society is overall a positive, a greater number of older people threatens to put a strain on our current infrastructure.

Experts in the field of gerontechnology, Dr Hannah R. Marston, Research Fellow in Health and Wellbeing Priority Research Area at the OU and Professor Joost van Hoof, Chair of Urban Ageing at The Hague University in the Netherlands, have partnered to research improvements needed of the WHO’s Global Age-Friendly Cities Guide. By raising the issues, they hope to shape public policy and ensure the creation of age-friendly cities that are prepared for the future – enabling residents to grow old actively within their families, neighbourhoods and society, with extensive opportunities for participation in the community.

The eight domains of the original age-friendly cities framework include outdoor space and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information; and community and health services. However, all eight domains lack considerations of living environment, physical space and technology. With the introduction of smart homes, sensor-based networks and care and support robots, every aspect of living for older people can be improved.

Dr Marston commented:

“For the last 12-15 years the age-friendly city movement has been working to the program set out by WHO. However, technology has been overlooked at the conception and installation of such a program, which given the phenomenal advances of technology in society, cannot be ignored.

“We believe that the age-friendly movement needs to include the findings from decades of gerontechnological research on the importance of technology in the daily lives of older people. By doing so, the framework becomes more interdisciplinary and inclusive.

“The impact of this new proposed framework is formidable both on the national and international landscape. In a world that is seeing an ever-increasing speed of implementation of digital technologies, this seems to be a logical next step to move the age-friendly movement forward.”

Dr Van Hoof added:

“The new smart digital age-friendly ecosystem can be of great value to policy makers and people working for councils that wish to become age-friendly. The model helps them to broaden the scope of age-friendly efforts by explicitly addressing the importance of technologies in the daily lives of older citizens. In the western world, the role of technology in the daily lives of its citizens can no longer be overlooked, as technologies may on the one hand support older people (assistive devices) or pose barriers (vending machines, computers).Cities and communities cannot become truly age-friendly if technologies and digital service provision are not tailored to the needs and abilities of older people.”

For further information about the report, which has been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, please visit: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/19/3525

About Author

Hannah is part of the Media Relations Team at The Open University, working with the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies. With experience both agency and in-house, Hannah has worked on campaigns for a number of large corporate companies and brands, including RBS, NatWest, Travelodge, Audible, AA and the Royal Academy of Dance. She has completed a Masters in Publishing Studies from Oxford Brookes and is currently studying towards a DipHE in Computer, IT and Design. In her free time she enjoys photography, reading and going to the theatre.

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