Our world has changed, will we change too?
Normality as we once knew is no more, the unforeseen consequences following the arrival of COVID-19 to global shores mandated a swiftness of unprecedented changes to our daily lives, affecting personal, social, and work practices. Who could have foretold of general acquiescence to removal of normal perimeters on going about our business. Taken for granted freedom of movement, access to employment, family/social/sporting gatherings became more of an exception rather than the norm.
The words of W. B. Yeats come to mind “All changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born..”
At time of writing, restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus are still in place, political leaders endeavour to find balance between prioritising safety and protecting the economy, many heroes are emerging, in particular national health workers in all corners of the world.
What has also emerged is the vulnerability of our elders, a major casualty of this unforgiving virus, our elderly citizens have suffered the most, at time of writing, the over 65s accounting for 90% of COVID-19 deaths recorded here in Ireland. Let’s not forget our over 70’s graciously answered the call to cocoon and give up their normal lives to assist with the virus containment, surely it is time now for an all-embracing change of attitude on how we perceive our older citizens.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) have shown leadership in being attentive to promoting societal initiatives to encourage and provide frameworks to support healthy ageing, their draft proposal ” Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020-2030)” is near ready for publication. Data shows that in most countries, the proportion of older citizens in the population will increase, from one in eight people aged 60 years or over in 2017 to one in six by 2030 and one in five by 2050.
A 2016 analysis of data from 57 countries carried out by WHO found that 60% of respondents reported that older people are not respected. Unlike other forms of discrimination, including sexism and racism, ageism remains socially acceptable, strongly institutionalised, largely undetected and unchallenged.
Will we continue to gloss over the fact that older citizens contribute to our society as workers, grandparents, friends, carers, mentors, volunteers and social activists or will we change?
Age discrimination damages a society, it nurtures prejudice and exclusion thereby creating a less just society for everyone.
Yet it is clear that in general, we continue with our agenda of bias and exclusion, we endorse elected political leaders that fail to introduce or implement policy or practice relating to fostering healthy ageing frameworks. Will lessons be learnt following COVID-19?, will our decision makers change their short sightedness?, will they show courage and collaborate with relevant partners to adopt new types of cooperation and innovation to better serve all citizens?
Here in Ireland as recently as April 2020, Active Retirement Ireland and Age Action responded with disappointment and concern on the content of a policy framework document drawn up by potential political partners in discussion to form our next government. The NGOs expressed disquiet that the contributions by our older citizens to society, communities and the economy were again largely ignored and under-valued by our politicians.
If we cannot rely on our elected representatives to embrace necessary change, we must look to ourselves. WHO identified that age-friendly environments can enable older people to continue to develop personally, to be included and to contribute to their communities while retaining their autonomy and health. Individual citizens make up the communities and society we live in, as individuals lets learn a valuable lesson from the changes introduced by COVID-19 to ensure that we foster an age-friendly environment. It does not require huge change to cultivate a kinder, more gracious and inclusive world. We can start by acknowledging the past and current contributions made by elder citizens, we can embrace meaningful integration to promote life skill exchanges, we can all learn from each other.
The 19th century poet Khalil Gibran wisely stated,
“Seek ye counsel of the aged for their eyes have looked on the faces of the years and their ears have hardened to the voices of Life. Even if their counsel is displeasing to you, pay heed to them.”
Our world has changed, we can change too…