The foundation has been laid to develop an action plan to make Cochrane an age-friendly community following the release of the findings from a year-long community engagement.

Last night, council heard the concerns and suggestions of over 470 people participating in an online survey, workshops and focus groups. It formally started during last year's Seniors Week with a hard copy survey.

READ MORE: First-hand accounts sought to make Cochrane age-friendly

FCSS manager Kim Krawec told council they received plenty of valuable feedback. In many cases, what they suspected was confirmed.

"We knew a lot of those gaps existed, so this is going to give us a little bit of power to create an action plan, identify our priorities and figure out how do we start tackling some of them," says Krawec.

That could include the opportunity to leverage some funding from the provincial and federal government.

The on-line survey asked questions about walkability, building and public facilities, parks and open spaces, alternate transportation options, housing, social participation, respect and inclusion, civic participation and employment opportunities, communications and information, and community support and health services.

It also left the door open for participants to bring up other topics and to list their top priorities. Housing topped the list of priorities, followed by transportation, health care, events and activities, active living and communications. Affordability and cost of living was identified as a factor in the residents deciding if they will remain here.

The basis of the age-friendly community concept is by taking into account the needs of its oldest residents, people of all ages benefit. 

"If you build for the young, you exclude the old," Krawec explains. "If you build for the old, you include everybody. It's actually about creating a community that has the infrastructure that supports our seniors which ultimately end up supporting everybody." 

By 2011, over 560 communities in Canada made the committed to becoming age friendly. They've been making changes to policies, services and structures related to the physical and social environment so that they can better support and enable older people to "age actively." 

Over a 10-year period, 2011-2021, Cochrane's senior population (65+) has increased 172.4 per cent. That compares to a 72.9 per cent increase for the 25-54 age group over the same period of time.

Krawec says growth patterns indicate Cochrane will continue to experience a surge in senior population. 

During Seniors Week last year, it was estimated a quarter of Cochrane's population will be 65+ by 2030.

Nationwide, data from Statistics Canada indicates people aged 85 and older is among the fastest growing age groups in the country. Data collected for the 2021 national census forecasts it will triple over the next 25 years.

Sharon MooreSharon Moore mans the table at the Filipino Family Picnic and Senior Appreciation celebration at the Cochrane Ranche Historic Site last June. (file photo)

While 43 per cent of participants in the public engagement were 65+. it also included input from those under 18 and several adult age groups leading up to being a senior.

A steering committee representing professional and community members has been working on the initiative since 2022.

"It's an amazing group that has been working really hard. They've been Intrigo throughout the entire process and will be even after the action plan is completed."

The Alberta government developed the age-friendly recognition program in encourage municipalities to be pro-active in responding to the growth in senior population.