Europe is ageing - there is nothing new about this observation. However, what if we were to look on the bright side of this change? Today, in the European Union, people can expect to live, on average, to 81 years and over , and the healthy life years expectancy is continuing to increase; this is a remarkable achievement.
The COVID-19 outbreak has shed light on the situation of older persons, revealing the serious adverse consequences for older persons living with underlying health conditions. However, paradoxically, older people have not been consulted as part of the response to the pandemic: a huge number of deaths has happened behind closed doors in care homes; the number of elderly abuse cases has increased; older persons have experienced social isolation; and decisions have been made without their input, as if older persons were 'others' and not 'us'.
"Ageing isn't something that happens to us in the second half of our life: it's a lifelong process. We age from the moment we are born. In this sense, ageing is another word for living."
Fortunately, many spontaneous and solidarity-based initiatives have bloomed during the outbreak , and numerous older persons have taken the floor, notably for the International Day of Older Persons. This again shows how much we can be inspired by grassroots examples.
Everyone has something to give
For the team of 'Invisible Talents', everyone would benefit from communities in which ordinary older people - including the oldest old - get to share their life stories and competences. Participation benefits older persons and their communities at large, and encouraging self-advocacy is a way to ensure a more diverse representation of older people that is far from the idea that they are a homogeneous group.
Similarly, there are many intergenerational exchanges that form a strong basis of our societies. For instance, measures aimed at promoting a work-life balance are key and often lead to 'win-win' situations: they can support longer working careers, and therefore contribute to the sustainability of pension systems, while helping older workers to take care of dependent relatives or grandchildren, which thus supports young parents' professional careers. Many older people also make a valuable contribution to society by volunteering beyond their own families. By helping others in need, older people not only have a high social impact on their neighbour hoods and communities, but also transform them into more cohesive and inclusive places to live. In return, older volunteers feel more useful and fulfilled, which improves their own well-being and health.
Those examples contribute to revisiting our narratives around ageing. In doing so, we can also use the existing windows of opportunities to engage with a wider and systemic change.
Key political hooks to change the narrative
The current political context offers several hooks that allow us to move forward and ensure a true change. These include the following:
The World Health Organization has endorsed the Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020-2030), which seeks to improve the lives of older people, their families and communities through collective action. One of the areas of action is dedicated to age-friendly environments in which local and regional authorities have a key role to play.
On 13 October 2020 the Council of the European Union adopted conclusions on "Human rights, participation and well-being of older persons in the era of digitalisation', inviting EU Member States and the European Commission to adopt an integrated approach to ageing and deploy initiatives across many different domains, such as communication, citizen participation, social inclusion and social protection, healthcare and long-term care, and digital education.
In early 2021, the European Commission will publish its Green Paper on Ageing. This document responds to AGE's longstanding call for a coordinated EU policy on ageing, and we invite all interested stakeholders, including civil society organisations and local authorities, to be ready for the public consultation that will follow the release of this Green Paper.
We are all ageing, but our well-being in old age depends as much on our lifelong expenses as on our capacity to debunk the fear of growing old. We all have a role to play in defining and implementing policies related to ageing, from the youngest person to the oldest person among us. Only then will we be able to build a society for all ages.
ESPON Conference Week on Ageing // Adapting European Cities to Population Ageing: Policy Challenges and Best Practices
Monday 30 November - Friday 4 December 2020
Together with AGE Platform Europe, Eurocities and the World Health Organisation, ESPON is organising an online conference week about population ageing. The week starts with an opening event, with a number of high-level speakers and experts, including vice president of the European Commission and Commissioner on Democracy and Demography Dubravka Suica.
The opening day is followed by sessions on the case study cities investigated in ESPON ACPA: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Gothenburg, Greater Manchester, Hengelo, Nantes, Oslo and Zaragoza.
Programme and registration available on: https://www.espon.eu/ageing
Let 's not treat older people as invisible or powerless. Many older people depend on an income and are fully engaged in work, in family life, in teaching and learning, and in looking after ot hers. Their voices and leadership count .
Secretary-General of the United
Nations, 1 May 2020