I AM now presently residing in Barcelona (thanks to my retirement benefits that sustain Nena and I in this cosmopolitan city) which is considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the age-friendly cities in the world. Lucky for us to be here savouring life in our golden years.
Our world is ageing and at the same time becoming more urbanized. Studies show that, “more than half of the world population now live in a city and by 2030, one in every three people will be a city dweller.” As the cities grow, the proportion of old people inhabiting them increases and this demographic change was the subject of studies by the WHO several years ago or at the turn of the century which created the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities (GNAFCC).
An age-friendly city is one where the “specific needs of elderly people are considered in order to alleviate the physical and mental decline associated with ageing, and to take advantage of elderly people’s potential for the community. It is based on the paradigm of “active ageing” that optimizes opportunities for health, participation, and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age. Thus, it is a process that continues throughout life and will be for all generations and not just for the elderly, so anyone can enjoy its benefits.
Barcelona became a model of an age-friendly city as a result of its early action on the matter. It started its membership in the GNAFCC in 2011 that led to a series of projects, making it a city that fosters the active and healthy ageing of its inhabitants. A Municipal Plan for Older People in 2013 was developed through and shaped by the people themselves who submitted 17,000 proposals which were transformed into 218 specific actions.
We have witnessed some of these projects; whereby, it becomes second nature for the residents to go out of their way to assist an elderly or even anyone placed in vulnerable situations – in simple incidents such as crossing the street, asking for directions; or calling for an ambulance or the social services for someone in distress.
Barcelona has the RADARS project which is “a system to prevent social isolation that functions with the support of a neighbourhood that voluntarily agrees to alert social services when they find someone who is in dire need of special care, support, or protection.
One can also find in the parks, an office, or a hall daily programs of activities catering to the elderly, including meals in company to promote socialization during mealtimes. A music area and reading section are provided. An elderly can also sign-up as a resource speaker in classes that are listed on the bulletin board where the date, time and venue are indicated. The office manager would interview the volunteers who, in most instances are also given a stipend or honorarium. Dance sessions and games for the elderly are also available.
Barcelona (or even in the other cities in Spain, Geneva, and Paris, too) has a very efficient public transportation system. The buses, trams, and trains are very punctual and rarely late. Therefore, the public is encouraged to ride them at cheap rates. An elderly person who resides in the city may apply for and is given a “tarjeta rosa” (pink card) giving him free access to public transport for a year and which is automatically annually renewed. The vehicles have a specific number of seats reserved for the elderly, as well as the handicapped and pregnant women.
Barcelona, and the whole of Spain, by virtue of the General Health Care Act of 1986, has also one of the best public health care systems that I have experienced. The residents find no need to pay for private health insurance, unless they need medical consultations at their own time. But emergency health care is immediately available to anyone, including tourists, especially when their lives are threatened. Any resident can call for an ambulance and within minutes the ambulance would arrive.
A Catalan Health Card (Cat Salut) is given to the inhabitants and they are assigned a specific primary care centre (CAP) which is closest to his place of residence. At the CAP, the residents are assigned specific “family” doctors to whom they consult health related problems. Should the problem need specific treatment or further, of an organ like the brain, eyes, ears, nose, throat, heart, kidney, liver, stomach, etc., the “family”doctor makes an appointment for you to see the concerned doctor. At the appointed date and time, the concerned doctor examines the patient, makes a diagnosis and if an operation so warrants, it is scheduled. All these services are free for the residents. Even maintenance medicines are available at minimal amounts.
Indeed, Barcelona is a haven for seniors, truly an AGE-FRIENDLY CITY. Hopefully Baguio can be one too, and not just a favourite tourist destination.