Population Aging and Urbanization in Europe

Cities are seeing a rise in ageing populations. In the European Union (EU), 75 percent of residents live in urban areas. As urban populations continue to rise, more and more people will grow into old age. For instance, the over age 65 group makes up 20-27 percent of the population in cities inside Portugal, Italy, and Spain. Since population aging will influence health, social exchanges, and well-being of older adults, hundreds of cities are designing urban environments to foster active and healthy aging.


Urbanization affects many areas including the health and well-being of society. As a result, many sectors are collaborating to keep populations engaged and healthy. Adapting cities to demographic trends accommodates residents, allowing for independent living and participation in society. The European Commission estimates that over 75 percent of housing in the EU is not suitable for independent living. Other aspects of physical environments including adequate sidewalks, transportation, and functional green spaces can increase physical activity and improve mobility, which reduces the risk and effects of chronic disease. Social issues, such as employment discrimination, negative stereotypes, and ageism, also play a role in the health of aging populations. It is important to involve older adults’ perspectives on urban planning to identify issues and barriers which prevent participation in society.

To help cities adjust to demographic trends and support healthy ageing, the World Health Organization (WHO) created a Global Network of Age Friendly Cities and Communities and Affiliated Programs, as well as a guide for policy and action in fostering age-friendly urban environments. Over 300 cities in 33 countries are currently involved in the Global Network, including 19 Member States in the European Region. The WHO guide advises on eight areas¹ considered the most influential, which also reflect the UN Principles for Older Persons. Through the work of the European Innovation Partnership on Healthy and Active Ageing (which has a dedicated Action Group on Innovation for age friendly buildings, cities and environments) the European Commission has published a guide on innovation for aging, with examples from 12 countries in Europe.

EuroHealthNet’s Healthy Ageing website also highlights examples of initiatives and key resources on healthy and active aging throughout the European Union. Arup, Help Age International, Intel, and Systematica have produced an overview² of aging in 10 European cities with comparative data on both urbanization and aging. AGE Platform Europe published a guide³ aimed at helping European cities to use the Urban Agenda to become more age-friendly and as a repository of innovative solutions for age-friendly environments. These networks and initiatives encourage cities to be health-promoting environments as they adjust to population aging, and share innovative ideas, experiences, and lessons learned along the way.

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By 2020, more than 50 percent of the global population over 60 years old will be living in urban areas. Planning now can stimulate active and healthy aging both for current and future generations.

1. The WHO guide addresses: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; communication and information; and community support and health services.
2. The ”Shaping Ageing Cities” publication examines: society; mobility; built and digital environments; politics; planning; and aging.
3. The AGE Platform Europe guide addresses the eight areas in the WHO guide as well as eight themes corresponding to the Urban Agenda: inclusion of migrants and refugees; jobs and skills in the local economy; urban poverty; housing; air quality; urban mobility; digital transition; and innovative and responsible public procurement.

Carrie Peterson covers Europe for Global Health Aging. She is a Gerontologist and Consultant in eHealth and Innovation.

Under-Diagnosed and Often Overlooked: Elder Abuse in South Africa

This article is the first part of a two-part series on elder abuse in South Africa. Click here to read Part 2.


This year marks the tenth anniversary of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). The United Nations established WEAAD to bring communities around the globe together in raising awareness about elder abuse. Although this problem is considered a public health issue, the World Health Organization has recognized that elder abuse remains a taboo which is often underestimated and ignored by many societies. This problem is perpetuated by societal attitudes and a lack of public knowledge about elder abuse. The abuse of older people is often viewed as a personal matter – it is not openly discussed. As a result, the prevalence of elder abuse is under-reported worldwide.

In South Africa, organizations like the Saartje Baartman Centre in Cape Town are helping those affected by elder abuse.  Dorothy Gertse the head Social Worker at the center reports that a growing number of elderly women are seeking assistance due to abuse by younger relatives. Elder abuse is a broad term that is comprised of various acts such as physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, neglect, exploitation, abandonment, and financial/economic abuse.

South Africa is currently experiencing a rise in economic abuse– individuals are seeking access to financial resources such as pensions and the homes of vulnerable older adults. Gertse states that family members are escorting the elderly to pension pay points and confiscating their finances. The rate of abuse has increased within the last 6 years; Femada Shamam, Chief Operating Officer for the Association for the Aged reports that in the 2010-2011 there were 1458 reported cases; this rose to 2497 cases in the 2012-2013 financial year.

The Older Person’s Act exists within South Africa’s Constitution and outlines the government’s obligation to protect the rights and uphold the safety of older persons. However, Shamam reports that many are unfamiliar with the act, and their role in upholding it. He states, “If you go to the police to report an incident, they wouldn’t know they have the authority to remove the alleged perpetrators.” Thankfully organizations like the Saartje Baartman Centre and The Go Turquoise for the Elderly are creating awareness surrounding issues faced by older persons in South Africa.

Andria Reta covers Africa for Global Health Aging. She is a Gerontologist and Professor of Health Administration.

A Brief Highlight of Older Athletes at the Summer Olympic Games

Photo Credit: GCSC

Photo Credit: GCSC

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are almost here. Starting next week, athletes from around the world will perform amazing feats including older Olympians who are generally not reported in traditional media. Older athletes have always participated in the games. For example, Brazil’s 2016 Olympic qualifying tournaments had many athletes in their 30’s and a few well into their 40’s. This article will focus on older athletes with the hope that it inspires readers and challenges aging stereotypes.

There are many examples of older athletes to celebrate. In the 2012 Olympics, a 101-year-old marathon runner Fauja Signh carried the Olympic torch. Also in 2012, Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan was a member of the Equestrian team at age 71. There is also the Senior Olympics – a biennial sports competition for adults aged 50+ – where the average age at the 2015 competition was 68 years old. As Global Health Aging states, “…the process of growing old is unique to each person.” Some people have loss of mobility or cognitive function… and some compete in the Olympics.

Athletes who have staying power lurk within many country teams. For instance, Robert Schedit, a 43-year-old member of Brazil’s sailing team, will compete in his sixth Olympic games! His first Olympics was the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, USA. Close behind him is Murilo Antonio Fischer who will compete in his fifth Olympic games at age 37. Fischer, a member of Brazil’s road cycling team, first participated in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Competing in athletic events or getting up to exercise are in part based on psychology and willpower. My investigation into the Olympics has shown a new narrative, that individuals of all ages succeed in competitive athletics. These sports in addition to regular daily exercise are attainable. Hence society has to redefine expectations as it is possible to be a great athlete well into old age. And for those who do not wish to run a 5 minute mile, any kind of exercise is important!

Grace Mandel covers South America for Global Health Aging. She is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Health Systems and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.