About Smart Healthy Age-Friendly Environments (SHAFE)

Smart Healthy Age-Friendly Environments (SHAFE)

To live and participate in society as inhabitant, worker or volunteer, it is necessary that the physical and social working and living environments are usable, accessible, protective and reachable. No matter if someone walks, drives, uses a walker or wheelchair, or is having hearing or vision problems. The age-friendly environments or age-friendly cities concept has been developed and launched by the World Health Organization in 2007.

With the ongoing digitization of society, new opportunities arise to foster these living and working environments. Also, digital solutions could assist to better prevent from non-communicable diseases, and to promote independent living, work till older age, favoring more health and wellbeing. Digital solutions can also be part of the solution for urged measures, such as social distancing in case of virus outbreaks. That is why we mainly focus on Smart Healthy Age-Friendly Environments (SHAFE), a concept developed in close collaboration with Cáritas Diocesana de Coimbra from Portugal.



The concept of age-friendly cities, or environments, was launched in 2007 by the World Health Organization (WHO). With this integrative and holistic concept several aspects of the physical and social environments of citizens are being approached and improved in order to achieve that those environments facilitate and support active and healthy ageing for all. The concept regards all ages and has lifelong approach: from before conception until high ages. The main aim is to achieve a higher level of participation in society, encouraged self-esteem and improved functional and intrinsic capacity of people. Since the launch of the age-friendly environments concept, over 800 cities and communities have signed up with WHO’s Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities.

In 2012 in Europe, there was the initiative to bring together public authorities, advocacy organisations, businesses and research in the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP AHA). The partnership aims to improve the quality of life of European citizens, the sustainability of national healthcare systems and to give a boost to European industries and SMEs. EIP AHA currently exists of six Action Groups: one of them is dedicated to Age-friendly Buildings, Cities and Environments. Out of this Action Group the Covenant on Demographic Change: towards an age-friendly Europe originated and was launched in 2015. At the same time, WHO Regional Office for Europe developed a tool for policy makers and urban planners to realise age-friendly environments. AFEdemy is and was closely involved in these initiatives.

Together with Cáritas Coimbra, AFEdemy took the initiative to launch in the frame of the Health Policy Platform the Thematic Network 2018 on Smart Healthy Age-Friendly Environments (TN SHAFE). SHAFE was most voted and 3 out of 10 thematic networks were installed in March 2018 by the European Commission (DG SANTE). Cáritas Coimbra and AFEdemy coordinate the Thematic Network and launched a Framing Paper and presented the Joint Statement to the European Commission in November 2018. In 2019 the Thematic Network will evolve into a stakeholders network, already consisting of over 120 participants.

In 2060, almost one third of the European population is 65 years or above. The demographic old-age dependency ratio (people aged 65 or above relative to those aged 15-64) is projected to increase significantly in the EU as a whole in the coming decades. The EU would move from four working-age people for every person aged over 65 years in 2010 to around two working-age persons in 2070. Ageing is thus not only an individual but also a societal challenge for what age-friendly environments – as concept of participation, active and healthy ageing – are crucial. However, at a day-to-day implementation and delivery level, it can be very challenging to undertake the collaborative age-friendly environments work in close cooperation with citizens, necessary by civil servants, social and health care providers, public health providers, architects, engineers, urban designers and planners and IT companies. It is difficult to organise a joint sense of urgency and investment within civil services and related stakeholder groups. Outcomes are only visible at a long term and at the moment hardly to measure. Local and regional experience is lacking for instance to involve stakeholders, to write an action plan or to make an impact analysis. Here AFEdemy enters the scene: we aim to equip and build capacity of stakeholders to realise and implement Smart Healthy Age-Friendly Environments (SHAFE).


Challenges: some facts and figures:

Loneliness: 1 out of 4 older people from 65 years and more are feeling lonely. 20% of them are feeling extremely lonely.

Chronic diseases: Many older people suffer from chronic diseases like COPD, heart failure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, arthritis. Two third of the people older than 65 years of age have 2 chronic diseases or more.

Frailty: Frailty leads to more chances of getting ill severely or impaired. Chances on frailty enhance while ageing. Most chances on frailty have people who are: single (be widowed), low income, women, suffer from chronic diseases, lower IQ.

Overweight and obesity: our current lifestyle of eating and less mobility evidently leads to overweight and obesity. Already at young age. Overweight and obesity can lead to lower self-esteem and chronic diseases like arthritis and diabetes.

Baby boom: Many people born in the years 1945-1955 are retiring. This for example leads to shortages in education and health care personnel. It is necessary to keep people as long aspossible healthy and in the workplace.


Age-friendly environments may help to address personal and societal challenges. Age-friendly environments offer an integral approach on eight domains of daily life to be found in physical environments, social environments and provisions and services. One arching principle with the realisation of age-friendly environments is the involvement of stakeholders with the start of the development.

Stakeholders are citizens (including older people), urban planners, architects, local and regional administration, businesses and shops, healthcare and community care.


The eight domains are:

      1. Outdoor spaces and buildings

      2. Transport and mobility

      3. Housing

      4. Social participation

      5. Social inclusion and non-discrimination

      6. Civic engagement and employment

      7. Communication and information

      8. Community and health services


AFEdemy works on the following aspects of age-friendly environments:

  • Database of indicators, guidelines and standards;

  • Involvement of target groups in policy making, like older people, shops, urban planners, people with different cultural backgrounds, people with disabilities and impairments;

  • Age- and dementia-friendly environments;

  • Independent living solutions;

  • Social inclusion;

  • Images and prejudices;

  • Built inclusive environments.

  • Urban initiatives such as healthy, smart and sustainable cities, age-friendly housing and sustainable neighbourhoods

  • Older peoples’ empowerment and volunteering

  • Care pathways and caring communities, living with dementia and community-based palliative care


  • Involve older people and other stakeholders

  • Define what is needed to be done and prioritise (checklist)

  • Define when you are successful and monitor the process and outcomes

  • Set up an action plan

  • Learn from your (European) neighbours

  • Enjoy successes and learn from failures

  • Be stubborn and patient

  • Get in touch with AFEdemy to see how we can help out

If you are interested in our services or collaborating with us in projects and initiatives, please write us.

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AFEdemy, Academy on Age-Friendly Environments in Europe B. V.

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