So, what does this mean for the world if, as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “The world is undergoing an unprecedented demographic transformation. Between now and 2050, the number of older persons will rise from about 600 million to almost two billion. . . In just on 30 years from now, for the first time in history, the world will contain more people over 60 years old than under 15 ...”
Whilst longer life spans are on the increase, and though we may celebrate this, is this really a good statistic, or is it that most older people are simply living longer in poor health and needing nursing home care for the later years of their life?
With older people finding it harder to get work or being forced to retire from their jobs, some may have a sense that they are being ‘dumped’ and are no longer ‘useful’. Others may have entered into a ‘well-earned’ retirement phase only to find that they no longer feel they have anything worthwhile to contribute to society. They may then feel isolated and lonely which can often lead to depression and increased lack of self-worth.
Does this mean that there will be a huge number of older people without any purpose or sense of value if they are not contributing to society in some way? Does it mean there will be a large proportion of elders who do not have meaningful connections with other people in the community?
The UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons states that “Ageism exists, and it is destructive. We are all born equal and this does not change as we get older, despite this, older people's rights are not being protected in later life, Ageism is rife across the globe. In most countries it is still considered acceptable to deny people work, access to healthcare, education, or the right to participate in government purely because of their age.” (2)
"Ageism is defined as negative or positive stereotypes, prejudice and/or discrimination against (or to the advantage of) elderly people on the basis of their chronological age or on the basis of a perception of them as being 'old' or 'elderly'. (Iversen, Larsen & Solem, 2009).(3)
These imposed attitudes can, and do, take a heavy toll on elders’ health and wellbeing.
Those that have retired because they have reached the designated retirement age, or ‘use-by date’, are sensitive to this imposition and consequently feel less valued due to the Ageism of the younger generations.
The UN International Day of Older Persons was instigated in 2016 with the purpose to ‘Take a Stand Against Ageism’. ‘It aims to draw attention to and challenge negative stereotypes and misconceptions about older persons and ageing.’ 2 So, what does the future hold for this ever-growing demographic of society? And who is responsible for ensuring our elders can live their final life cycle with respect, value and honour?
Do our governments have to take on the sole responsibility to provide Health Care and Nursing Home Care? We are seeing that, even without the predicted massive increase in the numbers of elders within our communities, the health system is already buckling under the weight of providing a high standard of care for our older population.
Or, do we as individuals, entering into the elder years of our life cycle, have a responsibility to live our lives in good health, well-being and vitality for life until our last breath?
What does the future hold for elders in an ageing society when we are not only coping with physical changes to our bodies and our mental capacities but are also having to cope with the way much of society view the older generation and all the stereotypes associated with Ageism?
Do we allow others to make decisions and dictate how our life should be or do we become more active in order to have our voices heard, so we are more respected and valued as members of society?
What if we all took more responsibility in the lifestyle choices that we make throughout our lives, would this make a difference to our health and well-being as we enter into our later years?
We have the choice to sit by and allow life to happen to us or we can become proactive and be part of future decision-making about how we can live out our elder years with good-health and wellbeing.
Bernadette C., Ruth A. and Sandra N., Australia
1. UN Convention for the Rights of Older Persons | Australian Human ...https://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/speeches/un-convention-rights-older-persons
Susan Ryan, Age Discrimination Commissioner
2. Towards a UN Convention on the rights of older persons?www.age-platform.eu/.../Towards%20a%20UN%20Convention%20on%20the%20rig...
3. Iversen, T.N.; Larsen, L.; Solem, P.E. (2009). "A conceptual analysis of ageism". Nordic Psychology.61(3): 4–22. doi:10.1027/1901-22220.127.116.11.
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