Pathways to active, healthy and protected ageing
International Day of Older Persons
Priyanka Yadav-Jagtap | The ageing population should not be seen simply as a growing statistic, rather should be approached more sympathetically, focusing on the individual, their health, their minds and their well-being. The ability to adapt to an increasingly ageing population will determine the future prosperity and social stability of countries.
The increasing ageing of the population is one of the most prominent demographic, social and economic transformations of the 21st century. This affects areas such as social protection, family structure, health system as well as labour structure and financial markets. Significant increases in life expectancy coupled with declining fertility rates and death rates due to development and demographic transition contribute to population ageing. This increase in the life expectancy and consequent statistics of the elderly underlines the importance of adopting preventive health measures and timely treatment of diseases.
Almost every country in the world is experiencing a much faster increase in the number of elderly people in their population than in the past. Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world's population over 60 will nearly double, from 12 percent to 22 percent. Nearly all countries are facing major challenges related to population ageing, concerning their health and social systems and demographic changes, yet low and middle-income countries will face more challenges as according to United Nations estimates, 80 percent of the elderly will live in low and middle-income countries by 2050, it would be imperative for these countries to prepare for this change and formulate policies in advance.
National Senior Citizen Helpline (14567) Elderline— PIB India (@PIB_India) June 15, 2023
The National Senior Citizen Helpline was inaugurated on October 1, 2021, on the International Day of Older Persons. The toll-free number 14567 provides services to senior citizens from 8:00 am to 8:00 p.m.
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The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) designated October 1 as the International Day of Older Persons in 1990. This year’s theme is 'Delivering on the Promises of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for Older Persons across generations'. The Declaration provides a comprehensive framework to promote and protect the rights of the elderly in decision-making and the participation of the elderly in healthcare, social protection and employment. In addition, the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2021-2030 as the Decade of Healthy Aging. The decade aims to promote the capabilities of older people; deliver person-centred health care that is responsive to older people; also provide quality and sustainable protection to older people.
Pathways to Healthy and Protected Aging
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), healthy ageing is the process of developing and maintaining the functionality of the elderly, which enables their ability to meet their basic needs, learn new things and make decisions and helps them stay healthy in old age both mentally and physically, also staying active, maintaining healthy relationships and contributing to society.
Older people should be seen as persons first, not just as a financial burden. Society needs to dispel the notion that older people are usually weak, dependent and a liability to society. It can also affect the way policies are developed for the elderly and the opportunities created for them. It increases social isolation and discrimination. That is why, it is necessary to protect their rights.
The elderly should be recognised as economic and social resources.
Even among the elderly, there are different groups and strata. One policy does not apply to all. Differences between them should be taken into account before formulating a policy. Their needs and vulnerabilities depend on their age, gender, living conditions (urban/rural/developed/underdeveloped states), educational background, previous occupation and income, social and economic status, religion and caste. Also, factors such as family structure, marital status and number of children affect their level of security. Research on all these issues and policies and measures based on them will be sustainable. Social and government policies must consider the diverse and evolving needs of older people.
Countries need to recognise the social and economic contribution of older people. The economic and social support that older people provide indirectly through their experiences should be respected, which is often taken for granted yet not valued, like housework. So it remains free and invisible. The elderly should be recognised as economic and social resources.
A growing ageing population not only poses challenges for governments, societies and economies but also creates new opportunities. New paths can be created with the right policy and institutional support. Different market opportunities, employment and innovations can be created, such as developing the geriatric healthcare sector, nursing care management and administration sector. The ability to adapt to an increasingly ageing population will determine the future prosperity and social stability of countries. An inclusive socio-economic environment enables elderly people with disabilities to perform daily and essential tasks effortlessly. Hence inclusivity can be the way ahead.
The multidimensional ageing transformations require planning at all levels of society. Financial protection in old age is needed through social insurance and social assistance, social services and protection systems. In addition to this, countries need to develop labour and skill development policies that will promote elderly empowerment over time, to accommodate and encourage older workers to remain in the labour force.
Need to promote social protection systems for the elderly in India
In India as well, the increase in life expectancy has led to people living longer lives with illness and disability in old age. India also needs a generous social security system to support the elderly. State and non-state capacities need to be developed to build protection mechanisms for older people. A reasonable pension scheme designed for non-government employees working in the informal and private sectors can secure their life after retirement. Apart from that, it is necessary to establish suitable workplaces in place for those who want to continue their work later.
The 'feminisation' of ageing in India is a challenge where increasing widowhood among older women puts them in a trap of insecurity in many ways. Women live longer than men, making them more likely to be lonely, vulnerable and over-dependent in old age. Therefore, looking at the subject of ageing from a gender perspective will be worth the effort. A careful analysis of age and gender-specific information (data) is necessary to design appropriate policies. The need of the hour is to practice empathy towards older people by creating age-inclusive services and opportunities. Policies that empower older people will be far more effective than policies that make them dependent.
The author, Dr Priyanka Yadav-Jagtap, is an Independent Researcher based in Satara.