The world is not getting any younger. The number of adults over the age of 65 will double worldwide by 2050. Children aged five and under will soon be outnumbered by people aged 65 and over. Research claims that the first person who can live to the age of 150 has already been born.
Ageing, as a natural progression of life, will inevitably transform the way our society works. Despite older adults emerging as one of the fastest-growing segments of our time, stereotypes persist, and challenges remain to impede their capacity to contribute to society.
At home, they are often considered too expensive to keep around so we fail to harness the wisdom they can pass down to younger generations. In the workplace, they are perceived as resistant to change or technology-averse when, in fact, it is where their knowledge and experience should count. In the marketplace, they are overlooked as a huge economic segment with the highest purchasing power while the fountain of youth is glorified.
Fighting ageism is crucial to creating a more equal world.
Coming of age
Fighting ageism everywhere is crucial to creating a more equal world where the rights and dignity of every human being are protected and preserved. Treating ageing as a disease is fundamentally misguided, and more and more people are proving it wrong every day.
Developing standards with solutions to overcome these challenges is the goal of ISO/TC 314, Ageing societies. Rae Dulmage, one of the co-convenors of the technical committee (who also does CrossFit at age 66), firmly believes that health and long-term care systems need to be aligned to meet the needs of our ageing societies. “By focusing on the intrinsic capacity of older persons and keeping their best interests at heart, we can provide them with the best care designed for their needs,” he says.
The work of ISO/TC 314 calls for communities to come together around issues of healthcare, social security and accessibility, and allow everyone to benefit from the contributions that our elders can offer. “We need to have a system that recognizes various cultural differences and treats them with respect,” Rae adds. As such, the committee’s efforts have focused on societal cohesiveness, involving both inclusivity and non-discrimination. The resulting standards help communities speak the same language as our ageing population so that we can all come up with solutions best suited for their evolving needs. That way, they are included in the conversation and no one gets left behind.
Experience never gets old
One of the biggest ageing trends can be seen in the workplace where the five-generation workforce is an emerging reality. Dr Martin Hyde, Associate Professor in Gerontology at Swansea University, said that older workers were less likely to put themselves forward for employer-based trainings. But they were also less likely to be invited on to those courses on the assumption that they were less eager or able to learn. “It’s terrible that people are subjected to those ideas, but it’s even worse when they begin to believe them. In a way, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. When elders are discouraged to work, we deny them the use of their faculties.
To meet every generation’s needs and expectations, employers and governments must recognize and provide equal opportunity for older workers. Organizations can implement ISO 25550 to maintain stakeholder trust and ensure their workforce is age-inclusive. “To recognize the value of our ageing population is to ensure that their voices are heard in any environment. It’s about upholding that principle of inclusion,” Dr Martin emphasizes.
On the other hand, our healthcare systems are working to promote universal access to quality long-term care. While it’s crucial to ensure equitable access to disease prevention, treatment and rehabilitation during all stages of life, it’s important to look after carers as well. This is at the heart of ISO 25551, which aims to empower working carers in communities to balance employment with caregiving responsibilities.
It’s also important to realize that healthy ageing is more than just “not having a disease”, but it’s also about being able to maintain functional ability throughout our lives. ISO 25552 aims to foster a dementia-inclusive environment to help elders be independent citizens, who feel safe and comfortable enough to maximize their abilities and participate in their communities.
We all have a role to play in combatting ageism.
Standing the test of time
We all have a role to play in combatting ageism. When we give older adults the support they need and deserve, they can provide our communities with economic growth, labour force equality and generational equity, among many other things. All stakeholders – including the government, public and private sectors, civil society organizations, academic and research institutions – must work together to harness these benefits.
This conversation isn’t about avoiding a crisis, it’s about changing the entire narrative around ageing and coming up with lasting intergenerational solutions to support every stage of life. When we break the stigma, and the barriers that come with it, we can transform our communities into a place where everyone can age gracefully with a purpose.