1st October 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons, which was designated by the United Nations General Assembly on 14th December 1990. The theme for 2021 is ‘Digital Equity for All Ages’ and it confirms the need for access and meaningful participation in the digital world by older persons, whilst at the same time recognising the new risks such as cybercrimes and misinformation, which threaten the rights, privacy and security of older people.
In his message for this year, Secretary General Antonio Guterres said “Older persons are far more than a vulnerable group; they are a source of knowledge, experience and rich contributions to our collective progress. When older persons can access, learn and use new technology, they will be better equipped to enjoy health, peace and prosperity.”
Why is it important for us to observe this day?
In 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and over outnumbered children younger than 5 years. Over the next three decades the number of older persons worldwide is projected to more than double with an anticipated 1.5 billion persons by 2050. It is also anticipated that 80% of older persons will be living in low- and middle-income countries.
In April 2020, the World Health Organisation issued the document ‘Decade of Healthy Ageing: Plan of Action’. The Plan was also aligned with the timing of the United Nations Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Decade addresses four key areas which are – Age-friendly environments, Combatting ageism, Integrated care, and Long-term care.
To enable key stakeholders at country level to promote and facilitate the four action areas, an online knowledge exchange platform was established. The platform also supports those seeking information and includes ideas which can improve the quality of lives of older people, together with their families and communities.
Progress has been relatively slow but there are examples where work has been carried out under the four headings identified above. Reviews and Reports of the past decade from the WHO acknowledge the need to support healthy ageing to ensure that no one is left behind by developing strategies to achieve this, which are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Despite the above initiatives, there is universal concern that insufficient progress is being made to address the needs of older persons. Ageism is prevalent throughout the world; the quality of long-term residential care varies considerably even within individual countries and the human rights of older persons are still not being adequately addressed.
We can learn so much from older people in our communities, many of whom will have lived rich and rewarding lives. It is important that we not only value them, but that we also ensure they are cared for with the dignity and respect they deserve.
As we celebrate the International Day of Older Persons this year, let us make it our goal to achieve improved care for older persons and greater respect for their human rights.