Something to celebrate: International Day of Older Persons

The world’s population is aging.

The number of people over the age of 60 is increasing as is the proportion of the population over that age.

The World Health Organization (WHO) projected that there would be approximately 600 million people over 60 in 2002 and that this number will double by 2020 and reach about two billion by 2050.

As shown below, the vast majority of these older persons will be in the developing countries.

What do these numbers mean?

In part, these numbers reflect a decrease in the number of births in countries, such as China and Japan, as well as an increase in longevity. Whatever the cause, in some quarters the numbers signal a demographic disaster in the making.

Many experts, however, hold a different view. G. Richard Ambrosius in an article on America’s Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) deplores how

The current image of older people as a problem—unproductive adults declining in health and increasing in dependency—demeans this population. Representing older adults in this way also marginalizes life’s second half.

Contributions of older persons

Far from unproductive, millions of older persons throughout the world make major contributions every day. For instance, throughout Africa—and elsewhere—millions of old people care for their adult children with AIDS. When those with AIDS die, the orphaned children left behind (currently, 14 million under the age of 15 in African countries alone) are mainly looked after by their grandparents.

In the U.S. millions of older people are still working at a job, and many others care for grandchildren whose parents are alcoholics or drug addicts or in prison. They take care of their grown children with traumatic brain injuries suffered in combat or family members with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias—work so exhausting and stressful that the care-taker is at risk of dying before the incapacited person.

Challenges of older persons

Millions of Americans over 60 are looking for work, having lost their jobs in the financial collapse of September 2008. (They aren’t the only ones. Large numbers of young people graduating from college or graduate school have been seeking work for a year or more.)

So the demographic situation is complex and challenging, much complicated by the state of the economy in the US and many other countries. A report on Washington Bangla Radio USA  gives a much-needed call for action:

This kind of demographic situation calls for fresh thinking at policy level to enable the societies to equip themselves for this changing scenario where not only taking care of senior citizens will be important but in addition emphasis should be on devising the ways in which the potential of senior citizens will be fully utilized.

Perhaps the time has come when it has become utmost necessary to change our mindset about the older persons and also change our notions about their perceived ‘limitations’. The societies must learn to take advantage of the experience and dormant abilities of older persons and also make necessary infrastructural and other changes required to meet this new challenge.

There are no easy answers, but perhaps we (collectively) need to challenge our thoughts about what people can’t do as they grow older and focus on the contributions they can make. What do you think?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Madeleine Kolb 10/12/2010, 9:30 pm

    Adena, I agree that every bit helps. I think people in general don’t realize how much essential but unpaid work is done by older people throughout the world.

  • Adena Atkins 10/12/2010, 6:29 pm

    Hi Madeleine,

    I would love to celebrate an international day for older persons. No, it won’t cure all the stereotypes, but I’m of the opinion that every bit helps :)
    .-= Adena Atkins´s last blog ..A Week of Unitasking- Part 1 =-.

  • Madeleine Kolb 10/10/2010, 2:51 pm

    We do become more free in many ways as we grow older. I feel that I am more accepting of myself than I used to be.

    “Chronic illnesses mean that my physiological age is greater than 64 but my spirit can still fly free and that makes all the difference.” Absolutely! As you may know, I too have a chronic condition, namely Type 2 diabetes, but as the fantastic singer Patti LaBelle once said, “I have diabetes, it doesn’t have me.”


  • Eileen O'Shea 10/10/2010, 2:00 pm

    Hi Madeleine,
    The idea of an International Day of Older Persons is brilliant. At 64 I’m a grandmother who enjoys the freedom of being older (freedom from self consciousness, from caring too much what others think. In short. freedom to be myself).
    Chronic illnesses mean that my physiological age is greater than 64 but my spirit can still fly free and that makes all the difference.

  • Madeleine Kolb 10/09/2010, 5:33 pm

    That’s the essential question. Not only have many old people made valuable contributions in their lives but they’re still doing it. Still working as entertainers, writers, doctors, in public service, or other fields. I love to collect such stories and write about them here.

    If you have any other suggestions about combatting the negative stereotypes, I love to hear from you. Regards!

  • Corinna 10/09/2010, 4:28 pm

    What if our stereotype of older people centered on the wisdom they’ve gained over a lifetime and the contributions they’ve made to their families and communities?

  • Madeleine Kolb 10/05/2010, 10:27 am

    I completely agree. In fact, part of the key to being active and healthy at any age is diet, exercise, and managing your own health. Who wants to turn 55 or 60 or 65 and realize that he has neglected his health and has to make a lot of changes? How much better to hear your doctor say, “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing.”

    Alison, I think that having fulfilling work is a huge factor too in keeping a person mentally and socially engaged, like the friends you mentioned.

  • Alison Kerr 10/05/2010, 9:54 am

    I totally agree that older people have a large contribution to make to our societies. Some of my friends are a great example – one took up a new career in counseling teens in trouble after he retired and another has been caring for 90 yrs plus folks with dementia. So much for retirement! I really enjoy the older members of my community. I think part of the key to an active old age is good preventive medical care, good diet and exercise, and effective and affordable treatment for chronic health conditions.
    .-= Alison Kerr´s last blog ..Simple Sweet Potato Combinations =-.