AS I SEE IT
Isn’t it time we dusted off the mothballs from our ideas about what it means to be older? A time too to appreciate the contribution of older people from President Michael D (82) and Mary Robinson (79), founder of Climate Justice, and on to the senior generations all around us.
It’s a good time to appreciate the one in every five of our population who is over 60. This month kicked of with UN International Day of Older Persons celebrating the resilience of older people in a changing world. Age Action’s Positive Ageing Week October 1 -7 aimsed to promote the positive aspects of ageing and challenge stereotypes of what it means to be one of the million aged 60+ in Ireland today.
To that end, Age Action want to see a Commissioner for Older People appointed. “A Commissioner could investigate and review the adequacy of policy, legislation and services affecting older people,” says Carrie Benn, Head of Fundraising and Communications, Age Action. ‘This would help bring an appropriate level representation and transparency on policy on ageing and older people and to help prevent scandals such as the revelations of a secret state policy to deter older persons from taking cases to challenge being charged for nursing home care.”
Currently, many older people don’t have access to the same kind of representative bodies or resolution mechanisms that employees and businesses have, points out Carrie.
There are compelling reasons for having a positive attitude towards ageing at a personal level too. Put simply it can make all the difference to how we age. Recent studies have found that optimism can have a protective effect against ill-health and can add extra years to a lifespan. Having a positive attitude to ageing can literally affect the way that we age too. (Remember ageing is a lifelong process!).
Professor of Gerontology at TCD Rose Anne Kenny quotes fascinating research in her book Age Proof. “How young or old one feels actually influences how quickly we age. In other words, the cellular process which characterise ageing can be controlled by attitude and perceptions.”
While we count our age chronologically in years, biological or physiological age is a far more relevant way of measuring how we are each ageing and that can vary widely. Understanding of the science of the ageing process is still developing and the search is on to find accurate ways of measuring biological age. A piece of research known as the Dunedin Study showed that, in people of the same chronological age of 38, the spread of biological can vary from 28 to 50 years. Proof if ever there was that you are as old as you feel.
What is the recipe for positive ageing? The ingredients needn’t cost anything: they include having an optimistic attitude, staying active and involved, making good lifestyle choices when it comes to diet and exercise and thinking young!
Age has changed considerably but our notions about what it means haven’t necessarily caught up with reality. Covid, with the frequent references to the vulnerable elderly, left an unfortunate legacy which is far from the reality where 71% 65-to-74-year-olds and 60% of over 75-year-olds say that they enjoy good health.
The recent arguments over pensionable age also belie the reality where many would prefer to continue working beyond 65. About 80,000 in that age group are still at work currently and many more or would like to work part-time beyond pensionable age as two thirds of Europeans would like to do. Perhaps this is the kind of issue which a Commissioner for Older People could address.
Positive Ageing Week itself is now 20 years old with ongoing organisation of events to promote agency for older people and positive ways of thinking about how we think feel and act towards others and ourselves based on age.
The Italians have an original focus on age this month too, the Festa dei Nonni holiday celebrating grannies and grandpas, with dances in piazzas and other fun – I like that idea. When it comes to ageing, I like film star Bette Davis quote too: “So long as I’ve got my make and my hair I’m never gonna give up.”
That’s the spirit.
Age Action’s vision is a society that enables all older people to participate and to live full, independent lives. This means removing ageism and other barriers that stop people participating or living to the full .