Are we ready for an older Ireland?

 

Sir, – One of the greatest advances of the last decade is that we live substantially longer and healthier lives, providing a longevity dividend of extraordinary benefit to us all in human, creative and economic terms. Little of this would be apparent in the staggeringly unbalanced extended Weekend article on older people (August 24th).

That we should live longer should be a cause for celebration, and not require justification in terms of economics or productivity.

Notwithstanding that, economists in the University of Chicago and University College London have described the economic dividend of ageing, estimated at adding £40 billion to the UK economy annually.

The article failed to capture how the huge relative increases of over-85s over preceding decades has not undermined Ireland’s economic development but rather almost certainly supported it, as will increased productivity, new industries and intergenerational support.

At a creative level, the late works of Beckett, Yeats, Louis le Brocquy, or the activism of our older citizen former presidents Robinson and McAleese, are a metaphor for what we, our families and society have gained in human terms from extended life, experience and maturity. Would the authors consider them to be included in the dependency ratio they describe, a now outdated concept when applied to our older citizens?

To describe this bounty in terms of unattainable healthcare and welfare costs is misguided and unfounded and raises questions as to whether The Irish Times would have permitted a similar exercise based on the healthcare, housing and education costs of new immigrants, or indeed whether the improved child mortality of the 19th century would have been greeted with this form of apocalyptic demography by the then editor.

That the Minister of State for Older People would appear to harbour similar negativity towards the civic priority and opportunity of protecting and sustaining the longevity dividend is no excuse, and we would expect better interrogation by journalists. In particular, the idea of setting an arbitrary budgetary limit on aspects of healthcare – nursing home and home care package supports – is indicative of a deep-rooted ageism that would not be tolerated for antibiotics, cancer care or very expensive new medications of limited efficacy.

Indeed, the increasing fitness is mirrored in a drop in the proportion of older people in residential care. In addition, countless studies have indicated that increased healthcare costs are tied not to older people but to new technologies and spending in middle age and early old age.

Ageism is the most bizarre of discriminations, against our future selves rather than against others: the turkeys not only voting for Christmas but also self-basting and pre-heating the oven.

Atlantic Philanthropies delivered a helpful fellowship for journalists in the US to counter ageism. The Irish Times might usefully consider whether such a course might be beneficial for its own staff. – Yours, etc,

Prof DESMOND

(DES) O’NEILL,

Consultant Physician

in Geriatric and Stroke

Medicine, Tallaght

University Hospital;

Professor in Medical

Gerontology,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – I’m looking at the illustrations to the Irish Times piece headlined Ageing Ireland.

The illustrations to the piece include people, presumably all over-65, struggling along, in wheelchairs, pushing walking aids, leaning on sticks, etc, and all with heads bowed. The piece ticks every cliché you could think of.

Did it ever occur to whatever great Irish Times brain selected the illustrations that there are plenty of over-65s leading good active lives – in many cases far more active than some Irish Times staff, with their beer bellies bulging out over their straining belts.

That’s my clichéd image of them anyway.

You could have included figures swimming, playing golf, tennis, table tennis or badminton, hiking, cycling or gardening, to take just a few typical examples. – Yours, etc,

BILL POWER,

Tramore,

Co Waterford.