The Journey To Age Equality: International Day of the Older Person

The first of October was not only the start of a new month, but was also International Day of Older Persons – a day to recognise and bring awareness to issues that face an ageing society.

The theme for the 2019 International Day of the Older Person was ‘The Journey to Age Equality’, a journey our Solutions for an ageing society work supports. We want to make the UK the best place to grow old in, and support social enterprises creatively changing the system and raising the quality of life for British people in later life, both now and in the future.

By 2020, 12.5 million people in the UK will be over the age of 65, with people over 50 making up 47% of the population. While that says great things about our improved life expectancies, it also brings a new set of challenges too.

The Journey to Age Equality’ theme set out to raise awareness and educate on the issues facing the ageing population, and how society can walk the journey to creating a more inclusive world that addresses the disadvantages. The 4 key aims of the theme were to:

  • Draw attention to the existence of old age inequalities and how this often results from a cumulation of disadvantages throughout life, and highlight intergenerational risk of increased old age inequalities.
  • Bring awareness to the urgency of coping with existing — and preventing future — old age inequalities.
  • Explore societal and structural changes in view of life course policies: life-long learning, proactive and adaptive labour policies, social protection and universal health coverage.
  • Reflect on best practices, lessons and progress on the journey to ending older age inequalities and changing negative narratives and stereotypes involving "old age

But when stripping back the jargon and sector speak, we wondered: what are these inequalities, how do they come to be, and how do they pass through the generations? How can we walk the journey with our ageing population, and help lay the pathways too?

These inequalities are outlined in full by Age UK, but include issues such as Quality of life, Wellbeing, Loneliness, Physical Health, Independence and Support to Dementia/Alzheimer's – key indicators we use in our Thrive programme.

As a society, we have to work together to make sure that older people are enjoying their later lives – thriving, not just surviving in the face of these interconnected inequalities.

Both loneliness and social isolation are key issues for our ageing population, with 11% of our older people saying they have contact with friends, family, or neighbours less than once a month. This loneliness not only manifests in mental health issues, but in physical health too.

Social activity-based enterprises like Move It Or Lose It train instructors to deliver fun exercise classes for those in later life to reduce the loneliness and improve their wellbeing. The classes empower members to become more sociable, confident, and independent in a relaxing and positive environment.  

Physical inactivity is linked to lowered life expectancy and poorer health, but on the flipside, physical activity can improve muscle strength, coordination, and balance – all key factors in reducing incidents like falls, maintaining bone health, and keeping up physical fitness too.

Given the benefits, it’s important to have purpose-driven organisations offering the chance for people in later life to get together and get moving to enjoy a higher quality of life.

Further positive effects of physical activity also include better health, helping to take the pressure off an already strained and resource-limited NHS. Older people can have more chronic and simultaneous health issues, but limited services and barriers to access, such as mobility or distance, delay treatment.

The support of social carers to act as intermediaries allows people to retain their independence while maintaining a high quality of life. Social carers can be neighbours, family, friends, or paid professionals, offering help with personal care, emotional support, or practical tasks such as grocery shopping too.

NEDCare is one social enterprise working to match self-employed carers in north-east Dartmoor with people in later life requiring support, while CareCalls is a 24/7 call service offering medication reminders and check-in phone calls.

Social care is even more important for people with Dementia, a key cause of disability in later life. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion and communication issues as well. Keeping brains active is a key contributor to delaying the symptoms of dementia, which both Lingo Flamingo and Shift 8* are seeking to do.

Research shows that speaking a foreign language can postpone the effects of Dementia by up to 5 years, and Lingo Flamingo offer tailored language outreach workshops to boost cognitive function and highlight that you can learn something at any age.

Shift 8*’s key product is the research-backed Tovertafel, or the ‘Magic Table’, which projects interactive games onto a table that encourages participants to engage with each, creating moments of happiness in over 250 care services in the UK alone.

There are many more examples of social entrepreneurs on the Journey to Age Equality, bringing awareness and creating positive systems change too, and we’re proud to be supporting them. If you have an idea, we’d love to hear from you too.

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