It is not surprising it is difficult to write or talk about older people generally or promote opportunities to certain specific groups of older adults. Language and attitudes have not caught up with the realities for the 21st century and what is happening in everyday life.
Ageism affects us all. Gradually, it is being challenged more vigorously. Positive, realistic language and images are emerging enabling individuals’ aspirations, capabilities, needs, and limitations to be acknowledged. Policy makers are gradually having to address inequalities and power relations so that in the future younger and older people can have realistic aspirations, better health and wellbeing.
Adults have their own narratives, histories, and aspirations. New policies and increased resources will be needed to ensure that systems are in place so people of all ages can lead meaningful and fulfilled lives.
When I was doing my doctorate, I used the term ‘active older people‘. I knew this was not an ideal term. It is wordy and if a person is alive, they are active. However, it gave some clarity and boundary, differentiating the adults I was focussing on from those adults that were young, or vulnerable and frail. There is still not satisfactory terminology. My research covered a wide range of people, including those born well before the second world war and beyond the baby-boomers born after the second world war and during the 1960s.
Many baby-boomers do not consider themselves old, needy, vulnerable or retired and they do not want to be marginalised. They are increasing in number, often living longer and many have good health, whilst others have chronic illnesses and caring responsibilities. They are individuals with different lifestyles, personalities, education, financial resources and health. They are acquiring a stronger voice and are more likely to vote than many younger people. Language is gradually catching up. The ‘elderly‘ or ‘pensioners‘ can no longer be regarded as one passive, marginalised cohort; ability is not solely dependent on chronological age.
Keeping people healthy and active in their communities is challenging but definitely possible. Adults can decide for themselves whether they want to be involved and can take personal responsibility if there are accessible, affordable activities and support systems available if needed.
In the future, many will want to work longer either because they wish to, or need to financially. This benefits society because more people will be healthier, independent, participate in social activities and be less dependent on public services for longer.
Some politicians have attempted to divide older and younger people, suggesting an intergenerational crisis will occur as they compete for resources. However, these issues are complex because social factors such as class, gender, education, housing, transport, accessibility and poverty affect ageing rather than chronological age and so do the systems that are in place (or will be in place). Older and younger people have more in common than differences. Older people are not a burden taking resources away from the young. Older people make contributions to the economy and often play leading roles in caring for grandchildren and elderly relatives and many volunteer or continue to work and mentor younger work colleagues. Many older people show empathy and concern for younger generations.
Change will happen as positive and negative aspects of aging continue to be identified and further research addresses these issues and innovations and more resources become available and priorities change. Ageing populations need to be understood within the context of other issues that are affecting the quality of life including climate change, globalisation, IT and AI, equality and diversity and poverty and peace or conflict in the world.
The following are organisations and projects addressing issues concerning older adults, demographic change and intergenerational issues. I have benefitted from attending their activities, considering their research and in some instances being directly involved and contributing to their work.