Today is International Day of Older Persons, time to celebrate and recognise the critical role older people play in society.
According to the World Health Organisation, a demoraphic revolution is underway throughout the world. Today, world-wide, there are around 600 million persons aged 60 years and over; this total will double by 2025 and will reach virtually two billion by 2050 – the vast majority of them in the developing world. In Australia, we have 4.6 million people over the age of 60.
Through volunteer work, transmitting experience and knowledge, helping their families with caring responsibilities and increasing their participation in the paid labour force, older people are making major contributions. In Africa, for example, millions of adult AIDS patients are cared for at home by their parents. On their death, orphaned children left behind (currently, 14 million under the age of 15 in African countries alone) are mainly looked after by their grandparents. In Spain, caring for dependent and sick individuals (of all ages) is mostly done by older people (particularly older women); the average number of minutes per day spent in providing such care increases exponentially with the carers’ age: 201 minutes if the carer is in the age group 65-74 and 318 minutes if aged 75-84 – compared to only 50 minutes if the carer is in the age group 30-49 (Durán H, Fundación BBVA, 2002).
Such contributions to development can only be ensured if older persons enjoy adequate levels of health, for which appropriate policies need to be in place. In line with the Madrid International Plan of Action, the World Health Organization launched in 2002 a document “Active Ageing – A Policy Framework”, outlining its approaches and perspectives for healthy ageing throughout the life course.
The United National Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also comments on International Day of Older Persons. “Older persons make wide-ranging contributions to economic and social development. However, discrimination and social exclusion persist. We must overcome this bias in order to ensure a socially and economically active, secure and healthy ageing population.” he says.
In the Global AgeWatch Index, developed and constructed by HelpAge International, Australia ranks 13 overall in the wellbeing of its ageing population. The index is based on four key categories: income, health, employment and education, and enabling environment and the nation has moved one spot since the 2013 Index. Australia can claim a high rate of educational attainment among older people for its region (92.4%) and also ranks high in the health domain, with values above the regional average on all health indicators.
In the capability domain it ranks below the regional averages for the perception of safety (58%) and satisfaction with public transport (55%). Australia has the lowest ranking in its region for the income security domain, and the highest old age poverty rate in the region (35.5%). It also has below average pension income coverage (83%) and relative welfare rates (65%) compared to other countries in this region.