Thursday, October 4, 2012

UN Report: Make seniors growth drivers and value creators

Unless steps are taken now to improve income, housing, health care, and the rights of the elderly, the report says, extra years could be more of a burden than a blessing in countries that are ill-prepared to deal with the dramatic demographic shift....
“We must commit to ending the widespread mismanagement of aging,” wrote Richard Blewitt, chief executive officer of the London-based advocacy group HelpAge International, which contributed to the report. “Concrete, cost-effective advances will come from ensuring age investment begins at birth — fully recognizing the vast majority of people will live into old age.”
The key, he added, is global and national action plans to make over-60s “growth drivers and value creators. Social protection and age-friendly health care are essential to extend the independence of healthy older people and prevent impoverishment in old age.”
“The social and economic implications are profound, extending far beyond the individual older person and the immediate family, touching broader society and the global community in unprecedented ways,” wrote UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his preface to the report.
“It is how we choose to address the challenges and maximize the opportunities of a growing older population that will determine whether society will reap the benefits of the ‘longevity dividend.’ ” (from the column by Olivia Ward, Toronto Star, October 3, 2012, included below)
Making over-60's 'growth drivers and value creators' requires some significant, and highly unlikely transformation to current attitudes, policies and practices.
Just as in so many other files, advances in health care and nutrition have out-paced political and cultural attitudes. Living in a celebrity-based-youth-fixated-lean-and-mean culture driven by the profit motive, seniors are the "nobodies" of the times.
Paradoxically, seniors, ignored at the peril of all of the achievers, still have brains that work, experience that seasons their perspective, and history that could be used as signposts in the public discourse over most pressing issues.
Seniors are not moth-filled cob-webs of grumpy old men and women.
Seniors are not frail wimps who resist opportunities to profer their insights, when asked.
Seniors are neither victims nor bullies, neither irrelevant nor dependents, at least in their own minds.
Seniors want to be integrated into the culture, in more meaningful ways than as "greeters" at the local WalMart store.
However, for the most part, seniors are without political voice, except at election time. Seniors do not have a seat at the table when social policy issues are being debated, designed and delivered to the public.
There is a stereotype of seniors, varied in various countries, that seniors have played our part, and must now be relegated to the 'wings' of the public theatre.
Ironically, that stereotype is precisely counter-intuitive to the core of the UN Report on our relevance to the economic and cultural vision that is both needed and mutually beneficial, for all generations. We have to change the stereotype of seniors, from warehousing them/us in "homes for the aged" to integrating them/us into the mainstream of public life.
And that includes into the legislatures, into the planning boards, into the city councils, onto the hospital boards, onto the school boards, onto the sales floors of the boutiques and box stores in our commercial districts, and even into the classrooms of our schools, colleges and universities.
And such integration requires curricula for senior advocates delivered in more faculties that merely the medical faculties of our universities. Such curricula need to be delivered in our Political Science departments, our English departments, our Sociology departments, in a multi-disciplinary approach in order to bring about the kind of cultural shift that can and will underpin the vision of this report.
Will that happen?
Doubtful. It is far too dramatic a shift for one generation and will likely require two or three generations to take shape, and to bring the kind of change that will only enrich the lives both of the community and of the seniors within those communities.
Live long and prosper? UN report says we need to act now
By Olivia Ward, Toronto Star, October 3, 2012
The good news is that prospects for a long life were never better on planet Earth.
According to a new UN report, strides in nutrition, health, sanitation and medical science are boosting life expectancy by years, even in poor countries. More than 3 million people will see their 100th birthday by mid-century, and in 2050 the population of over-60s will reach 2 billion.
But if we live long, will we prosper?
Unless steps are taken now to improve income, housing, health care, and the rights of the elderly, the report says, extra years could be more of a burden than a blessing in countries that are ill-prepared to deal with the dramatic demographic shift.
That could mean that in the next three decades, Japanese in their 70s will be struggling to find care for their longer-living parents. In China, more elderly people will be scrambling for a living, alone and poor. In India, numbers of centenarians will burgeon, but their quality of life will decline.
These are some of the warnings from the United Nations Population Fund’s new report Ageing in the 21st Century: A Celebration and a Challenge.
“Aging is a triumph of development,” says the report, by a collection of UN agencies and advocacy groups. “Increasing longevity is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. People live longer because of improved nutrition, sanitation, medical advances, health care, education and economic well-being.”
The horizon seems bright, but already clouds are gathering. By 2050 the vast majority of elderly — 80 per cent — will be in developing nations that can least afford to provide care and support.
The world’s over-60 population will be larger than the under-15 generation, putting more burden on taxpaying workers and family members — and straining health care, welfare and pension funds. That means planning for the shift should happen sooner rather than later.
“We must commit to ending the widespread mismanagement of aging,” wrote Richard Blewitt, chief executive officer of the London-based advocacy group HelpAge International, which contributed to the report. “Concrete, cost-effective advances will come from ensuring age investment begins at birth — fully recognizing the vast majority of people will live into old age.”
The key, he added, is global and national action plans to make over-60s “growth drivers and value creators. Social protection and age-friendly health care are essential to extend the independence of healthy older people and prevent impoverishment in old age.”
The worldwide demographic shift has occurred gradually over the past half-century, but as birth rates shrank in developed and emerging countries, and lifespans lengthened, social scientists sounded the alarm. Ten years ago the UN’s non-binding Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing was the first attempt to write a bill of rights for older people.
It led to new policies, plans and laws on aging in dozens of countries. More than 100 have brought in government pensions to help ease old-age poverty. But, the agency said, much more needs to be done to help aging populations lead healthier and more self-sufficient lives.
“The social and economic implications are profound, extending far beyond the individual older person and the immediate family, touching broader society and the global community in unprecedented ways,” wrote UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his preface to the report.
“It is how we choose to address the challenges and maximize the opportunities of a growing older population that will determine whether society will reap the benefits of the ‘longevity dividend.’ ”
One of the biggest problems is that of an aging population, when the proportion of older people is a larger share of the total. Statistics Canada says that by 2031 this country will have just three workers for every retiree: half the number of workers for each retiree 30 years ago.
The shift means people may have to work longer, and retirement will be postponed or even eliminated for those without means of support. But older people are also subject to discrimination, especially women, who live longer than men. They’re also more likely to suffer abuse, denial of the right to own or inherit property, and poorer access to social security and health-care benefits.
But a key finding of the report shows that better health and longevity of the aging generation can come back to their communities in a good way. Seniors have “incredible productivity as caregivers, voters, volunteers, entrepreneurs and more.” With the right measures in place to support them, the report says, current and future generations can reap the longevity benefit.
Those measures include:
• Social protection “floors” to guarantee income security and basic social and health services.
• Access to health-care information and services that include preventive, acute and long-term care.
• Policies that promote healthy lifestyles, as well as rehabilitation services.
• Training of community caregivers for the frail elderly.
• Affordable housing and easily accessible transportation.
• Protection of rights of the elderly against discrimination, violence and abuse.
Aging by numbers
810 million people are currently aged 60 or over, 11.5 per cent of global population.
2 billion will be over 60 in 2050, or 22 per cent of the global population.
78 Current average life expectancy in developed countries. By 2050 newborns are expected to live to 83.
68Life expectancy in developing regions. By 2050, newborns there are expected to live to 74.
84Life expectancy in Japan, the world’s longest.
81 Current life expectancy in Canada.
48 Life expectancy in Sierra Leone, the world’s shortest.
28 Percentage of the global population that has comprehensive social security protection.
47 Percentage of older men in the global workforce.
23.8 Percentage of older women in the global workforce.
84 Number of men for every 100 women aged 60 or over worldwide.
Source: United Nations Population Fund



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