Building healthier cities for seniors

Building healthier cities for seniors

Health & Life Sciences

01/04/19

The implications of urbanization on seniors.


Urban planning isn’t just about streets, sewers, and water lines. The influence of urban planning on health is significant and there are aspects that affect the health of the entire population, but this post will explore how urban planning interacts with the health of older adults through social isolation.

As cities grow denser, there is evidence to suggest greater urbanization increases feelings of social isolation, all the while, people express a desire for more contact with their neighbors. Urban planning is showing to be a leading cause of such negative feelings. The built environment is creating more barriers to social interaction and increasing loneliness.

The U.K. made the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for State for Sport and Civil Society responsible for cross-government work on loneliness in 2017. Given social isolation’s link to increased mental health issues, increased risk of chronic health issues and even early death, Australian politicians and the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness have advocated for a similar official in that country. Other health advocates such as Isobel Mackenzie, a senior advocate in Canada, debate whether government intervention is the right approach.

Undertaken with the 30-year-old athletic in mind, modern urban planning sometimes ignores or under-appreciates the needs of seniors living in cities across North America. It’s important to note that the needs of seniors in the domain of social isolation are also far more complex than building a level walking path or creating a senior-friendly playground and expecting the best. Motivation is an essential aspect of the equation.

Emotions and feelings can provide both stimulants and barriers to increased walking by seniors. For example, while watching and listening to young children play in a park can lift the spirits of some seniors and encourage them to return, other elderly may experience greater feelings of isolation and depression because they can’t participate or being in the park brings memories of relatives, friends and times long past, argues planning scholar Emerald Lee.

Other policy experts recommend that to tackle this problem, urban planners must encourage natural ways to get seniors to connect with their communities. Decision-makers must prioritize green space in city development, but in such a way that pedestrian zones, parks and markets interact and bring seniors in as opposed to being onlookers.

Social isolation is a cause of poorer mental health outcomes among all demographics, but seniors, due to a lack personal resources, advocacy, transportation issues and even poor weather conditions, can be prisoners in their own homes. They become locked in by urban planning decisions that didn’t recognize the complexity or scale of their health needs.

Successful senior and caregiving advocates remain continuously well-informed of the social and mental health consequences of similar developments and rely on them to reach conclusions for legislative and regulatory demands.
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David is focused on tracking issues relevant to the retirement space, from health and longevity advancements to financial planning and technology. Furthermore, he pays close attention to the role of population health and municipal affairs in general.

David Gingras

Senior Editor