On Saturday, we will join communities around the world in observing the International Day of Older Persons. October 1 was designated by the United Nations in 1990 to recognize the vital contributions of older people to the global community and to encourage member nations to thoughtfully address the aging of the population. At the Administration for Community Living, we are working to ensure that this includes the supports and services necessary for older people to live and contribute in their communities.
This year, the United Nations has designated the 2016 International Day of Older Persons theme as, “take a stand against ageism” in order to draw attention to and challenge negative stereotypes and misconceptions about older persons and aging. Ageism is the systemic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are considered old.
The international community has officially recognized the harmful consequences of ageism as a matter of human rights. In 2014, governments around the world adopted a resolution (E/RES/2014/7) at the United Nations Economic and Social Council that recognized ageism as “the common source of, the justification for and the driving force behind age discrimination.”
In the United States and around the world, too often we see limited and stereotyped depictions of older people and of aging. Many of these messages center on the notion that seniors are burdens to their families, and that aging places economic strains on countries.
While it is true that many older adults experience poor health as they age, it also is true that many enjoy good health far longer than people once could expect. Combined with extended longevity, this means that older people are increasingly found in the workforce, playing key roles in their communities, and providing care and support to family members. Many need some help with the tasks of life as they get older, but in many cases, older adults are providing this help to others in their families and communities. Let’s work together to make sure these stories are told, and that older adults’ contributions do not continue to be overlooked.
It is important to recognize that ageism is not experienced in the same way for all older adults. Gender, ethnicity, disability, care dependency, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status can intersect with age and have a compounding effect on social opportunity, access to services, and quality of life. With this in mind, ACL funds the National Aging Resource Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Minority Seniors, a consortium of national organizations that reflect the diversity of our nation and which represent and interests of diverse elders. ACL also funds the National Resource Center for LGBT Aging, which works to improve the quality of services and supports provided to LGBT older adults.
We also work collaboratively with colleagues in other U.S. government agencies and with international partners to challenge ageist approaches and messages, and to ensure the interests of older adults are represented in the development of domestic and global policies.
All of ACL’s programs and initiatives center on supporting older adults and people with disabilities to live the way they want to live, in the places they choose. From our programs that help meet the individual needs of older adults, to our work strengthening the system of resident reporting in long-term care facilities, to our efforts to drive innovation in Adult Protective Service systems, championing the rights of older people is the common thread.
ACL also applauds the eight national aging organizations that are engaging the Frameworks Institute to work collaboratively to address ageism and public perceptions of older adults. As the This collaboration is resulting in robust resources related to overcoming ageism and understanding who older adults are, as well as what issues affect them, how they contribute to our society, and how society can best integrate their needs and contributions.
In the U.S., 10,000 adults turn 65 every day. Globally, the number of people aged 60 and above is expected to reach 1.4 billion in 2030 and 2 billion in 2050. We cannot let ageism get in the way of this unprecedented opportunity to benefit from the experience and capabilities of so many people. On this year’s International Day of Older Persons, and every day going forward, let’s make a committed effort to tell a different story of aging — one that sees older adults as valued contributors — and work to ensure that every person has the opportunity fully participate in their communities, throughout their lives.