An ageing opportunity if older communities are backed by social support and enterprise


Using the term “demographic time bomb” to describe Ireland’s ageing population insults older people. As campaigners for the aged repeatedly point out, many people in the western world now expect to have long, healthy lives and participative lives. While in Ireland about 11 per cent of the population has been 65 or over for most of the last century, planners cannot ignore that this cohort of the population will be about 28 per cent by 2046. And the numbers over 85 will also grow rapidly. There are stark issues, therefore, for pensions, health and social provision, and population life style.

If politicians realised that the 65+ population could increase by nearly 25,000 annually over the next 35 years they might have a sharper focus on the myriad implications. It is reassuring, however, that there is now a solid report being studied in the Department of Health and Children. The report’s analysis of the issues, and proposals for future action, will do much to bolster what should be a national conversation on ageing.

The report, from Fourth Age Trust, “ Individual Needs, Collective Responses, the Potential of Social Enterprise to Provide Supports and Services for Older People ”, says that ageing is a great challenge but that it also brings a significant opportunity. And it outlines how social enterprise, or business with a social purpose, can revolutionise provision for older people.

This is against a national background of support networks damaged by emigration, increasing dementia, and the need for home adaption, and garden maintenance for older people, as well as transport and responsive home help services. As the report says, this is an incomplete list and the needs of older people are so many and varied that a new approach is required, one which will be innovative and enhance rather than supplant.

It is suggested that the social enterprise would become a catalyst in communities where it works to create supports and care for older people. It would tender to become a HSE-approved provider of community services for older people but would also seek over revenue streams to provide greater use of assistive technology, time banks, a befriending service, volunteer organisation, group purchasing and home and garden care and repair.

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