Age-friendly communities: Designing accessible, inclusive and safe communities

The Bottom Line

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) began promoting the concept of an “age-friendly community” in the early 2000s. An age-friendly community allows older adults to stay active, participate in society and live in safety.
  • Several factors influence the ability of cities and communities to become more age-friendly.
  • Specific initiatives undertaken at the local level may differ according to needs, priorities and available resources. However, all age-friendly communities view age-friendliness holistically rather than focusing on a single aspect of the physical or social environment.

The world population is ageing. By 2036, nearly one in four Canadians will be aged 65 or over.(1) To optimize aging and help preserve the health and quality of life of all people in our society, countries, cities and communities can put in place measures to be more accessible, inclusive and safe.

Did you know that the 10 Canadian provinces have launched age-friendly community initiatives? Around the world, more than 600 cities and communities in 38 countries are committed to supporting the well-being of older adults and helping them to stay active! (2)

Communities can improve their age-friendliness by promoting public participation and employment, supporting community activities and health/social services, providing accessible transportation for people with reduced mobility, well-maintained sidewalks, affordable housing in buildings with elevators and safe outdoor spaces, not name just a few.(3)

What facilitates the implementation of age-friendly community initiatives?

What research tells us

A recent systematic review identified 13 studies exploring the facilitators and barriers to becoming an age-friendly community.(2) The analysis revealed three categories of factors:

1. Catalysts

For these initiatives to succeed and be sustained, there must be a common vision, convinced and competent project leaders and a political will at national or regional level to support local communities. Partnerships between ministries, non-governmental organizations, researchers and the private sector facilitate the establishment of such initiatives. In Canada, for example, provincial governments provide grants to municipalities and community organizations to support age-friendly community initiatives. In addition, an age-friendly community recognizes and harness the skills of older adults, and collaborate with them to meet their needs and aspirations.

2. Process factors

Obviously, to implement an action plan that meets the needs and aspirations of older adults, sufficient funding must be available. Also, to maximize the consideration of aging-related needs in municipal planning, it is necessary to integrate age-friendly initiatives directly into local services and into other existing initiatives or strategies.

3. Contextual factors

Contextual factors refer to demographic composition, economic and political environment, history or culture. For example, if political discourse is not focused on population aging or age-friendliness, local action will be difficult to pursue. Moreover, rural/remote communities and urban centers are likely to face very different challenges. These challenges can be amplified in rural and remote areas because infrastructure and services may be limited.

How to become an age-friendly community?

The WHO has defined several general steps:

1. Plan: engage older adults, assess age friendliness, develop an action plan, identify indicators

2. Implement the action plan

3. Measure progress

4. Improve and reinvent: apply to become members of the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities to reflect your commitment to becoming more age-friendly.

You don't need to be an elected municipal official or a member of the provincial government to make things happen! Regardless of who takes the lead in an initiative, certain milestones must be met to become an age-friendly community, including establishing an advisory committee where older adults are actively represented and obtaining a resolution of the city council.

Do you want to become an age-friendly community? Visit your province's website to find out about activities and get inspired.

Get the latest content first. Sign up for free weekly email alerts.
Author Details


  1. Government of Canada. On the road to age-friendly communities (Brochure). Ottawa: Canada, 2021.
  2. Menec V, Brown C. Facilitators and barriers to becoming age-friendly: A review. Journal of Aging and Social Policy. 2022 Mar 4; 34(2): 175-197.
  3. Government of Canada. Age-friendly communitiesOttawa: Canada, 2016.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.