Planning Age-Friendly Cities, One Step at a Time

Two research projects are studying the daily habits of seniors to understand how urban environments might determine – or undermine – healthy aging. One project (CURHA) is being carried out with the ERA-AGE 2 program (European Research Area in Aging 2) – in which Canada and Luxembourg are active participants; and a second project, HANC, is being funded by France’s National Research Agency.

In addition to responding to surveys focusing on their health and their daily habits, and documenting their social networks, participants will also be required to don a wearable device, SenseDoc 2.0, for 7 days, to objectively monitor their daily mobility and their level of physical activity. According to Dr. Philippe Gerber, a researcher at LISER who is leading the CURHA study in Luxembourg, “This very rich data collected from several hundreds of seniors in Luxembourg and the greater Montreal region will enable us to develop unique analyses of the relation between the distinctive features of urban environments and several important aspects of aging, namely social participation, physical activity, and well-being.” Researchers hope to identify the types of urban environments that may improve the lives of seniors and lead to healthy aging by merging GPS data on daily mobility and accelerometry measures with a wealth of information about the participants’ urban contexts and social networks. “If the results coming out of this research demonstrate how social participation is influenced by individuals’ neighborhood resources, daily mobility, and social networks, this will enable policy makers to plan our cities more effectively, or put in place more targeted interventions,” explains Cedric Sueur, a researcher who is developing the HANC project in Paris.

Although the use of wearable devices which help obtain objective measures of mobility and physiological signs is on the rise, few studies have been carried out on seniors despite the fact that they make up the fastest-growing segment of the population. Such studies could provide indications about how to best plan our cities for a more active and included – and thus healthier – aging population. Cities better planned for active and involved seniors will by the same token benefit active and inclusive youth as well as adult populations: build for the old, and you’ll include everyone!

Presentations of the ERA-AGE2 program from the 2015 London conference, including the CURHA project: