Developing an age-friendly county programme in Fingal: Older people’s lived experiences and the WHO age-friendly conceptual framework
Mc Donald, Bernard Joseph
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Developing age-friendly communities is a significant global policy issue. The WHO (2007) age-friendly cities and communities initiative has had a significant influence on the development of Ireland’s Age-Friendly Programme. However, international and Irish research on the development and impact of such programmes is still at an early stage. This study aims to critically examine the utilisation of the WHO age-friendly planning framework in an Irish context. It does this by exploring older adults’ experience of living in two towns in an ‘age-friendly’ county, and in parallel, examining the development and implementation of the county’s age-friendly programme from a stakeholder perspective. This multi-perspectival approach facilitates an assessment of the extent to which the age-friendly county programme addresses the needs and preferences of older residents, and illustrates how the WHO conceptual and planning framework has worked in an Irish context. The study employs a mixed-method, qualitative case-study research design. A constructivist grounded theory approach is used to explore the lived experience of older adults, and a qualitative case study framework is utilised for the stakeholder strand of the study. The research identifies salient social and cultural dimensions of the day-to-day lived experience of older people which, although they impact on the age-friendliness of the places in which they reside, are neglected in the WHO framework. It also identifies a unique combination of economic, political, cultural, and organisational factors which have impacted on age-friendly programme development and implementation in Ireland. In combining these two sets of findings, the study presents a critical analysis of the use of the WHO age-friendly framework, and suggests ways in which it can be modified to better reflect and accommodate the diverse experience of older Irish adults. While the study contributes significantly to our understanding of the development of age-friendly programmes in Ireland, it has more general relevance in other geographic and cultural contexts. Its findings have important implications for conceptualisations of age-friendly communities, and for policy and practice in this area, including how best to involve older adults in age-friendly programme development. The study also suggests that a mixed-method, multi-perspectival qualitative research approach could make a valuable contribution to future process and impact evaluation research on age-friendly initiatives.