Discover the World’s Most Aging-Friendly Town

Senior residents thrive in Arnsberg, Germany.

Senior couple enjoying performance at opera and ballet theater.

(Caftor /

Retirees thrive in Arnsberg, Germany where the whole community is senior friendly. From wide pavements, shaded benches, and a host of activities, this city is one of the most aging- friendly places in the world.

Germany is greying, it has the world's fourth oldest population according to Channel News Asia, and this is something that has never happened before. “We don’t know much about [the effects] yet, because it’s never happened on this scale before,” Martin Polenz from Arnsberg's Department of Future of Ageing (Fachstelle Zukunft Alter) told CNA.

Today, the town's population of seniors is one in five over the age of 65. In 2030 it will be one in three. Since many seniors develop dementia, this could have been a major issue for this medieval German town with a population of 80,000. Instead, they decided to embrace it.

The local infrastructure of the town was changed to make it more senior friendly, and it worked. “We don’t want our old folks to live on the isolated fringes of the city,” said Polenz.

A volunteer at a nursing home for people with dementia said: “In the past, people were hidden because when they were old, they became useless. So, they stuck them into nursing homes.” But today, these nursing home residents are visible on the town's streets, festivals, and parties.

What makes Arnsberg different from the rest of Germany is the Department of Future of Ageing that was founded in 2004 according to Reasons To Be Cheerful. But that came about after the town did a population survey in 1995, comprising 28,000 residents over the age of 5; the results were a real eye opener.

The participants didn't want to sit home after they retired, they wanted to participate in social activities, to continue learning, and to continue contributing to society. And most of all, they didn't want to be alone in their senior years.

This completely changed the way the town looked at aging. It went from looking at what seniors could no longer do and building nursing homes to what they could do and creating new programs to encompass that.

Now, “it is about strengthening resources and capacities, empowering, and enabling elderly people to stay or become active citizens,” Polenz told Reasons To Be Cheerful. The department supports over 200 projects for the elderly and works as advisors for other departments in the town.

Some of the projects include adding numbered benches every 200 meters along the town's promenade. The benches provide rest and shade but because they are numbered, people who get lost can call for help and tell rescuers exactly where they are. Volunteers are available to travel with seniors as bus companions to allow elderly people to continue to shop for themselves and to carry the heavy bags home.

There are affordable residential complexes that are tailored to the residents need so that seniors live independently at home longer. But the most successful project is the Dementia Learning lab. “Almost 400 citizens turned up with ideas at the inaugural meeting,” Polenz said.

This project set out to change people's attitudes about dementia by providing information about the disease and to reduce the fear that people had about seniors who have it. Now people are much more empathetic.

One of the lab's projects is Café Zeitlos (Timeless Cafe), an inclusive space where people with dementia and their caregivers get to relax and mingle with people of all ages and create art. Walter Rupert, who is now 100 years old said that Café Zeitlos was a weekly break for him when he was taking care of his wife who had dementia. Even after his wife's death, Rupert still drops in every Tuesday.

“Arnsberg’s co-production approach is innovative because the city involves older persons and persons with dementia as key actors in the solutions that are developed for them,” said Anne-Sophie Parent, who has worked for 28 years on aging in the European Union and is currently the Secretary General of the European Covenant on Demographic Change. “It makes them feel heard, a key element for them to feel valued and included in the life of their city.”

Parent said that the work done in Arnsberg can be replicated in other European towns and cities with similar demographics and populations. Keeping people active in their communities make them less lonely and isolated and will give seniors a better overall quality of life.


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