New WHO handbook on age-friendly environments

16 January 2018

Policies to create better age-friendly environments have become a forceful movement in Europe and globally in which a growing number of cities and communities, local authorities and regional governments participate. The World Health Organization (WHO) just published a handbook for local policy-makers and planners based on lessons learned from existing age-friendly initiatives in Europe and from the latest evidence from research. It offers a new focus on inter-connectedness and mutual synergies between the eight domains and how they can work together to address common goals such as increasing social inclusion, fostering physical activity or supporting people living with dementia.

The new WHO handbook is the result of the Age-friendly Environments in Europe (AFEE) joint project between the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion and the WHO Regional Office for Europe.

The handbook expands the framework of an earlier WHO publication, Global age-friendly cities: a guide, which has been widely used to structure and inspire local government initiatives in cities and communities around the world. The original WHO global guide summarizes eight domains of age-friendly environments and their characteristics that older people identified as key features of an age-friendly environment.

The AFEE project complemented this framework by bringing together evidence from research and an empirical analysis of community action in Europe. Its findings suggest that age-friendly environments are most supportive if policies and projects comprehensively cover physical accessibility, social inclusion and person-centred services. To illustrate this conclusion, the project worked on a new version of WHO flower, grouping the eight domains for age-friendly action into these three clusters of supportive local environments: physical environments, social environments and municipal services. Working on these three clusters allows governments to adapt to the needs of older people with varying capacities. A key idea here is the “person–environment fit” coined by environmental gerontology. This concept refers to the fact that a person’s ability to age well and independently depends on the relationship between his or her physical and mental capacity and the “press” (or barriers) of his or her environment. 

The AFEE project also added to the WHO global guide with a companion publication to this handbook that provides guidance on the policy process and management cycle of putting in place and sustaining age-friendly action. A complementary paper sets out how local governments have used indicators, monitoring and assessment to support age-friendly policy initiatives.

The handbook is available here.