Why do our attitudes towards older adults need to shift?

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As our society ages, it is becoming increasingly important for us to shift our attitudes towards older adults. Traditionally older members of our community have been revered for their wisdom and life experience. However, as our world evolves, families and communities are more fragmented, living in different places and embracing differing cultures, leaving many older adults at risk of feeling isolated and marginalised. Here at St John’s, we are passionate about ensuring the ageing process is a positive experience, which is why we want to change the stigma around older adults.

For the first time in history, adults aged 60 and over are now the fastest growing group in our population. According to the World Health Organisation, the number of people aged 60 and over is expected to double by 2050, and to triple by 2100. In Bath and North East Somerset alone, since 2011 we have seen an increase of 17.5% in the number of residents aged 65 years and over.

With figures such as these, we would expect to see more age-friendly communities and opportunities for older adults. Sadly this is not the case – The state of ageing 2022 report suggests that ‘the experience of being older in England is getting considerably worse for many’ which applies to a number of domains including financial security, life expectancy, disability and loneliness.

No matter a person’s age, most people have a tenacious hold on independence; they want to make their own decisions, support themselves financially, and take care of their own physical and emotional needs. According to the National Institute on Ageing the health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Social isolation and loneliness have even been estimated to shorten a person’s life span by as many as 15 years. With the increasing number of older adults in our society, it is essential that older adults continue to have the opportunity to contribute to our society and not get side-lined in favour of younger generations.

One issue being faced on a national, as well as local level, is that as our population ages and retires, we have started to experience crucial gaps in our workforce. This issue was only accelerated by the pandemic when many more older adults chose to stop working.  A Government Office for Science report states ‘The future success and resilience of the UK will be determined in a large part by its ageing population. Nowhere is this more apparent than the productivity of the UK workforce, which will see a major increase in the number of workers aged 50 and above.’ Inclusive initiatives that encourage older adults to remain in the workforce are helping to remove barriers. The development of services can lead to older adults becoming better off financially and mentally, as well as giving them the opportunity to remain active and involved in society.

Learning does not stop when people reach a certain age milestone. Continuing to learn in our older years promotes mental health and wellbeing. Challenging our brains and setting goals is strongly associated with a positive outlook in life and contributes to heightened self-esteem. This is why our Good Living Service offers regular educational talks and tutorials for those that want to continue their learning. Talks include subjects such as local interests, historical topics, ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ and practical support.

It is a universal truth that all people age, so why would we discriminate against our future selves? Our older citizens provide an invaluable contribution to society and their wealth of knowledge and experience can be shared and treasured. For the benefit of us all, our society’s attitude towards older adults needs to shift to create a more inclusive and supportive environment, that recognises, values and respects each and every individual.

Find out more about the support we offer to older adults here.