Change that leads to better lives

Ageing Matters

On International Day of Older Persons Paul Gutherson discusses his thoughts on what matters to older people

Ageing Matters Blog 01 01

Too often, how we think about older members of our communities and the language we use is deficit based - thinking about what’s missing, rather than what has been gained. Today is about recognising and celebrating older people in our society for the contribution they have made and can continue to make in our communities.

This year’s theme for the International Day of Older Persons is Digital Equality. Covid-19 highlighted the positive benefits of digital connectivity for some, but it also highlighted the inequality experienced by some older people who lacked confidence or the means to connect with their community through technology.

One of the main changes that we hear repeatedly in our work is how people’s perceptions change towards us as we age. Despite overwhelming evidence and stories showing the skills, knowledge and positive action that older people bring to our communities, many people still see ageing as a societal burden or vulnerability that needs services, support and protection. This can bring an over concentration on the financial implications to society rather than the benefits.

Our narrative needs to change focus – instead of how care is paid for we need to think about how we support older people to continue to live their lives well. This has been further exacerbated by Covid-19 and the definition and labelling of vulnerable.

During the past 18 months, when the importance of mental and physical wellbeing has been essential, we’ve seen the valuable contribution that older people make to their communities through mutual aid groups and charitable activities. Equally, the pandemic has highlighted just how many older people are dependent on the very same groups and activities to survive and to keep well.

As someone who has spent most of their life living in rural communities, I am particularly interested in the experiences of people growing older in rural communities, especially in how that intersects with issues like loneliness and mental health and the push towards Carbon Zero because of the huge issue of climate change that faces us all. Ageing in rural communities is an important issue, and one that is growing, with Office of National Statistics estimates of population change suggesting that by 2039 as little as 14.8% (Greenwich) or 18.5% (Leeds) of the population will be over 65 in 2039 compared to nearby more rural communities where as many as 40.8% (Rother) or 35.9% (Craven) of the population are predicted to be over 65.

The current mindset of policy conversations is to view this as a problem to be fixed. At NDTi, we would love to challenge that point of view, to shift thinking. Rather than viewing this as an indication of increased rural demand for services we believe rural communities will have at their disposal a huge bank of wisdom, experience, and skills. We should be thinking of designing ways to make the most of this huge asset base to ensure older people’s lives remain meaningful and full of choices.

Part of my job in the coming year is to listen and better understand the burning issues for older people and then to work with individuals, groups, organisations and service providers to try out new ideas to overcome the challenges together. This is an exciting time, a time to innovate, to rethink together. To build ways of doing things that celebrate the gifts that we all have and to enable everyone to be included in the communities they live in.

So, whether you are an older person, or you represent an organisation supporting older people, or you’re a commissioner of services for older people, I would love to hear your thoughts on the challenges of getting older. What should we be focusing our efforts on to make the biggest change in people’s lives? Please get in touch and we can start a conversation about what matters to you.

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