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Global Age-Friendly Cities: Study of Active Ageing in Two Brazilian Capitals

By Bianca M V Palmieri, Ana Maria Moser, and Leandro Zen Karam

Abstract (English). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that in 2050 there will be 2 billion older people worldwide. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), estimates suggest that in 2025, Brazil will be the country with the sixth largest population of elderly worldwide (IBGE, 2002). Given this “silent revolution” of aging, comes the concern about the active ageing of this population. This term was adopted in the late 90s by the WHO to describe the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to improve the quality of life as people age. The aim of this study is to observe the elderly population, using the criterion of biological maturation in two Brazilian cities, and verify whether these cities can be considered “age-friendly cities.” Four observations were made: 2 in the city of Rio de Janeiro and 2 in Curitiba. Some difficulties along the way as the step height of the sidewalk, the short duration of the pedestrian traffic light, among others, were observed. Based on this study, it is possible to realize that the two observed Brazilian cities, Curitiba and Rio de Janeiro are cities that care about the elderly: despite some problems, this was exemplified in their physical structure and accessibility of elderly and with special activities offered in public areas for this specific population. However, how far we can say that these cities may be considered age-friendly, based on global guidance from WHO age-friendly cities?

Resumo (Español). Segundo a Organização Mundial da Saúde (OMS), estima-se que em 2050, haverá 2 bilhões de pessoas idosas no mundo. Segundo o Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), estimativas sugerem que, em 2025, o Brasil será o país com a sexta maior população de idosos em todo o mundo (IBGE, 2002). Diante dessa “revolução silenciosa” do envelhecimento da população, surge a preocupação com o envelhecimento ativo dessa população. O termo “envelhecimento ativo” foi adotado, no final dos anos 90, pela OMS, para descrever o processo de otimização das oportunidades de saúde, participação e segurança, com o objetivo de melhorar a qualidade de vida à medida que as pessoas envelhecem. O objetivo desse estudo é observar a população idosa, usando o critério de maturação biológica, em duas cidades brasileiras, e verificar se essas cidades podem ser consideradas “cidades amigas dos idosos”. Foram realizadas quatro observações: 2 na cidade do Rio de Janeiro e 2 em Curitiba. Foram observadas algumas dificuldades durante o trajeto como a altura do degrau da calçada, o curto tempo do semáforo de pedestres, entre outros. Com base nesse estudo, é possível perceber que as duas cidades brasileiras observadas, Curitiba e Rio de Janeiro, são cidades que se preocupam com os idosos, exemplificado não apenas em sua estrutura física e acessibilidade dos idosos mas também com atividades especiais oferecidas em ambientes públicos para essa população. Entretanto até que ponto podemos dizer que essas cidades podem ser consideradas, com base no guia global da OMS, cidades amigas dos idosos?

Introduction. Studies abroad and in Brazil have pointed to the “quiet revolution” of aging (Corrêa, 1994). In 1950, there were 214 million elderly people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that in 2050 there will be 2 billion older people worldwide, and 80% of them live in countries currently classified as emerging or developing. The original Demographic Transition model described by Warren Thompson (1929) presented four phases, but there is now an accepted fifth phase in which the death rate exceeds the birth rate, due to the high cost of raising children, thus generating a population with the highest number of older people relative to the number of young people. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), estimates suggest that in 2025, Brazil will have about 34 million people over 60 years, being the country with the sixth largest population of older adults worldwide (IBGE, 2002).

The increasing number of elderly in the world is related to an increase in life expectancy; however, concerns around active aging of this population surge. In the late 90s, the term “active aging” was adopted by the WHO to describe the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to improve the quality of life as individuals age. In Brazil, rights granted to people aged over 60 years are regulated by Law No. 10.741, of October 1, 2003, which provides for the Statute of the Elderly and other measures.

The aim of this study was to observe the elderly population, using the criterion of biological maturation in two Brazilian cities, Curitiba (in Southern Brazil) and Rio de Janeiro (in Southeast Brazil), and assess whether these cities can be considered “Age-friendly cities “.

Regarding biological maturation, according to Isabella Bertelli (2008), in humans the division between the biological and the cultural is especially necessary, yet it is important to understand human behavior in the interaction of biological and cultural factors. The ethology, that is the science of animal behavior, presupposes this interaction and assumes that any biological-behavioral predisposition, anatomical, physiological, among others, is shaped by the social and physical environment. After the “The friendly city of the elderly” project launched by the WHO in 2008, a Global Guide was developed by the Brazilian gerontologist Dr. Alexander Kalache and Dr. Louise Plouffe, about the World Project “Cities Friends of the Elderly.” According to the guide, in a senior-friendly city, policies, services, environments and structures give support and enable people to age actively by: recognizing the wide range of capacities and resources among older people; predicting and responding flexibly to needs related to aging; respecting decisions of the elderly and the lifestyle they choose; protecting those who are most vulnerable; and promoting their inclusion and contribution in all areas of community life.

Materials and Methods. Naturalistic observation was conducted based based on the criterion of biological maturation (anyone who appeared 60 years or older). Four observations were conducted in two Brazilian cities: Rio de Janeiro and in Curitiba (located in the Southeast and South regions, respectively, of the country).

The first observation was performed in Rio de Janeiro, on April 21, 2014, Monday, from 11h36 to 12h06 in the neighborhood named Catete to the neighborhood named Largo do Machado, for about 45 blocks. The second observation took place on the same day at 14h48 until 15h18 at Av. Atlantica, Copacabana Beach waterfront, starting in front of the Hotel Copacabana Palace and finishing in front of the Museum of Image and Sound. The other two observations were made in the capital of Paraná in Curitiba, on May 1, 2014, Thursday. The observations were made at approximately the same time that the observations were made in Rio de Janeiro and the locations chosen were: the Osório Square to Santos Andrade Square, central Curitiba (morning), compared to the commercial area from Catete in Rio de Janeiro; and in Barigüi Park, leaving the Yellow House until the Expo Renault space, local dedicated to leisure, as well as Av. Atlântica (afternoon). All observations were made ??during national holidays: April 21 was Easter holiday and May 1 was Labor Day holiday.

Results and Discussion

Day 1, April 21, 2014: Rio de Janeiro

11h36 to 12h06: From Catete to Largo do Machado (Approximately 45 blocks)

53 seniors were observed, of which: 5 were in a wheelchair (all with companions), 6 doing outdoor exercises, 4 playing cards, 1 jumping off the bus (apparently with difficulty) and the remaining 37 were observed walking.

Of the seniors observed, 28.30% (15 individuals) were monitored and the others were alone (71.70%), which may mean the relative autonomy of the elderly observed. Another important aspect observed were some difficulties encountered by seniors during these activities, such as the step height of the sidewalk and the short time the pedestrian light gave them to cross lanes of traffic (8 seconds to cross 4 lanes).

14h48 to 15h18: Copacabana (Atlantic Av.) – (From Copacabana Palace to Museum of Image and Sound) 

Copacabana Place Hotel, the start point of the second observation, in Rio de Janeiro.

Copacabana Place Hotel, the start point of the second observation, in Rio de Janeiro.

83 seniors were observed, of which: 2 were in a wheelchair (both companions), 1 was on crutches, 9 were working (1 masseuse, three ice cream vendors, 1 sand artist, two sellers of popcorn), 2 were in racquetball training, 6 were bicycling, 10 were sitting in kiosks, and the remaining 53 were observed walking.

Of the 83 elderly observed, only 20 were with companions (3 with uniformed companions). Because observation was made on holiday, the left lane of Atlantic Avenue was closed to cars: there was ample space for walking, biking, rollerblading and more. However more than 60% of the elderly were observed on the right side of the track. One hypothesis is that the right side has shade and thus more mild temperatures (which was on this side of 27 C): since the left side (sand) was in direct sunlight it might make it more difficult for the elderly to use.

Day 2, May 1, 2014: Curitiba

11h40 to 12h10: Osório Sq. to Santos Andrade Sq. 

Figure 1: Arrangement of small groups observed in the area of the “Damn Mouth”, in front of Gallery Tijucas.

Figure 1: Arrangement of small groups observed in the area of the “Damn Mouth”, in front of Gallery Tijucas.

80 seniors were observed of which: 3 were working (1 lottery ticket selling, one driver, and one lady making/selling knitting), 10 were seated, 4 were walking with a cane, 1 was eating ice cream, 3 were in the cafeteria, 23 were gathered in the front of the Gallery Tijucas, separated into groups according to figure 1. The remaining were walking. The local temperature was 20 ° C with enough wind: many seniors were wearing coats. Despite the fact that all the trade of the region was closed due to the holiday, a high number of elderly was observed. The location where they were observed is famously named the ‘’damn mouth’’ because traditional locals say that it is a place where seniors go to complain about everything, including politics.

14h53 to 15h23: Barigüi Park (Yellow house to Expo Renault)

29 seniors were observed of which: 2 were bicycling, 1 was running, 1 was flying a kite, 1 was trying to find a home for puppies, 7 were working (selling items: sugarcane juice, popcorn, cotton candy, drinks, ice cream; 2 bathroom attendants), and 17 were standing outside the Renault Expo.

Observations were made near the park clock, which is an open and windy place (the temperature was 18 ° C with windchill of 15 ° C). On the observation day, citizens could shop for knits, leather and wool in the traditional city of Curitiba, at the Renault Expo (Exhibition Place in the Park), which could explain the fact that most seniors (58.6%) were observed here.

“Damn Mouth”, place of the first observation, Curitiba.

“Damn Mouth”, place of the first observation, Curitiba.

Compared to Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba had the greatest number of seniors in the commercial area and fewer in the recreational area. The central region of Curitiba, in addition to fame by the number of elderly, appeared to have more physical structures for these seniors than the region of Catete (RJ) – pedestrian traffic lights last longer and sidewalk steps are low. Yet, regarding the recreation area, the number of elderly observed in Copacabana was significantly greater than the number observed in Barigüi Park, nearly triple. In this case Copacabana has a better physical structure for the elderly as the boardwalk has wheelchair accessibility and the weather is more pleasant for a walk.

Conclusions. Based on this pilot assessment, the two observed Brazilian cities, Curitiba and Rio de Janeiro are cities that care about the elderly, exemplified in their physical structure and accessibility of the elderly through observing the height of the sidewalk, places to sit along the sidewalk, special parking lot places, and priority seats for seniors. However, we should also take into account the extent to which these cities may be considered, based on the WHO age-friendly cities guide. Curitiba city proved to be a friend of the elderly, as the environments and structures gave support to the elderly. On the other hand, Rio de Janeiro, despite some difficulties in the physical structure along the way, the programming of activities and spaces for seniors, appeared more worried about active aging and aimed to optimize opportunities health, thus stimulating the improvement of the quality of life of locals as they get older.

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Published: January 2015 HPC

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