New thinking needed to promote active ageing
So what exactly is the problem we are trying to address? In our recently published New Agenda on Ageing – To make Ireland the Best Country to Grow Old In, we set out three reasons why we need a new strategy.
Firstly, the quality of life of too many older people is unnecessarily poor, particularly for those who are frail, experiencing multiple chronic health conditions or living alone and at risk of poverty.
The report, which draws extensively on Irish and international research, reveals a number of reasons why this is the case. They range from loneliness, isolation and elder abuse to inadequate transport services, exclusion from employment, discrimination, financial insecurity, inaccessible public spaces related to poor lighting, uneven pavements, lack of benches, and concerns about safety in the home and in the community.
People passionately want to stay living in their own homes and community and don’t want to have to go to nursing homes because of a lack of home-care support.
Secondly, we need better long-term planning to address the issues that are currently at problem level. Chronic disease already accounts for 70-80 per cent of European healthcare costs and 86 per cent of deaths.
As people survive illnesses that previously would have been fatal, the numbers experiencing chronic conditions such as dementia and arthritis will increase dramatically. This increase in numbers will escalate into a crisis unless radically new approaches are adopted and changes put in train now.
Many chronic diseases are preventable, delayable or mitigable through a combination of primary prevention measures, screening and early intervention. They also require a move away from treating such conditions in expensive acute hospital settings to more proactive self-care and care-in-community settings.
Lastly, we need a new paradigm on ageing – a new way of thinking and a new language for ageing. The gap between traditional retirement age and the onset of severe frailty is growing. Most people are healthy and active in later years and seek a “life with purpose”. There is in effect a new life-stage, what active ageing advocate Marc Freedman calls “a new map of life fitted to a new length of life”.
This is European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, which recognises that society has a huge untapped resource of people with accumulated life skills and expertise.
Many of the complex societal challenges that we face require precisely that mix of life experience, time and understanding that older people have in abundance. Surely, we have the creativity and determination to invent the structured opportunities to channel that time and talent into opportunities that match need with interest.
Anne Connolly is executive director of the Ageing Well Network, ( ageingwellnetwork.com) a member of the national steering group for the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations 2012. activeageing.ie