Kapiti Coast tackles age-friendly issues

Within the next 20 years, more than 1.2 million New Zealanders will be aged 65+ with all the looming challenges and opportunities that presents. 

Jill Stansfield says footpaths should fit pedestrians and mobility scooters

The rapidly ageing population is already a reality on the Kapiti Coast where a group, with the support of the council, has been meeting to explore what an age-friendly community would look like.

For resident Jill Stansfield, who’s currently getting around on crutches after surgery, there are practicalities to consider.

“I have just been to the disabled toilet and the weight of the door, the spring on the door, was such that I had to use my head, in conjunction with my crutches, to get through the doorway.

“That is not accessible for some people and that would be a disaster, I mean it really would.”

She would like Kapiti to put in place elderly preferred parking, not just disabled parking bays, and think about what’s on offer at shopping centres and in public spaces.

“You’ve got to think about seating; the seat has to be high enough off the floor and it has to have arm rests as well.

“When we’re talking about accessibility to services, then the queuing system needs to have a number system rather than standing there for half an hour.”

Signage is also critical, she says.

“If you've got a notice in a building, the font has to be large enough for people with a visual problem to be able to process from a reasonable distance.

“For the new expressway, [signage] needs to be more diagrammatic than the printed word… it can then be understood by everybody, including tourists. You’ve also got to think carefully about the font and what background you use it on because there are quite a high proportion of people who cannot process black on white.”

Ms Stansfield says it's not just the 50+ who stand to benefit from age-friendly policies.

“I think whatever we think about in terms of improving to make what we loosely call age friendly, when you look at it carefully, it will be all age friendly.

“What about the rugby player who’s stuffed his knee? He’ll be on crutches for a long time, he can use the ramp as well, and the mum with maybe a baby buggy and a couple of toddlers in tow – that is by far the best way for them to gain access to a building too.”

Historic wave of people

John Hayes says what works for a wheelchair is also good for a pushchair

With 26% of its residents aged 65+, Kapiti is dealing with issues other communities around the country will soon face.

“I think it’s very important the entire community gets its head around this historic wave of people. We’ve never seen anything like it before,” says John Hayes, chair of Kapiti Coast Older Person’s Council.

“The politicians have got to realise that the more we [procrastinate] the bigger the problem is going to be because this population explosion at the older end is not going away.

“Obviously as the population ages, there are going to be challenges; Infrastructure challenges, challenges with the way we interact with people.

The World Health Organisation defines an age-friendly community as “an inclusive and accessible urban environment that promotes active ageing”.

It’s identified eight elements which influence the quality of life for older people including employment, social participation, social inclusion, information, health services and community support, housing, transport, and buildings and outdoor spaces.

Wheelchair and pushchair friendly

One of the aims of Kapiti Coast District Council is to ensure its infrastructure suits everybody, says Gavin Welsh, the chair of its corporate business committee.

“It needs to be the case that a mum with a pushchair can pass by somebody who is in a mobility scooter, and if the pathways aren’t wide enough then they can’t or there is a risk they will either have to go off-road, topple over, or all of the above.

“Simply having the right bench in the right shop so people can take a moment to sit down and rest their legs is an area we want to explore.

“What works for older people and wheelchair-bound people also works for parents with pushchairs.

So, what we see from an infrastructure point of view, it has to be workable for everybody.”

Kapiti group at meeting

An age-friendly community is also about the way people interact.

“We need to take some extra steps to ensure people are involved socially,” says Mr Welsh.

“Loneliness is a killer in many respects so we want to make sure that people don’t die of loneliness. It‘s how we can take those steps.

“It’s about how we interact as a community that values all the members of our community but with a particular focus on the older generation as we become older in our make-up.

“There are certain things we need to be more cognisant of going forward than we currently are as it stands at the moment.

“From the council point of view, the best thing we can do to contribute to this movement is to say everything we do, we do it age-friendly.”

John Hayes is also people-focussed.

“We’ve got a lot of opportunities and increasingly technology is helping with that but for some elderly people, of course, they can’t take part in that digital revolution so that’s a challenge in itself.

“If we can occupy people actively, keep them out of the institutions, keep them out of the hospitals, it just means that we as a society can cope with things better and have more fun.

“I think it’s incumbent on us to try and make sure our communities are friendly to all ages.”