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Celebrating International Day of Older Persons 2020

Published 01/10/2020

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Pandemics: Do They Change How We Address Age and Ageing?

The year 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations and the 30th Anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP) which falls on 1 October.

As we learn to live with, and recover from, the impact of COVID-19, we have an opportunity to address inequalities experienced by older people, value their role in society, and ensure that the diversity of their voices is heard, informing decisions that affect them.

“Older people must be a priority in our efforts to overcome COVID 19”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the 30th anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons

The equality and human rights impacts of COVID-19 have been significant and felt acutely and disproportionately by specific groups of the population, including older people.[1

Since March 2020, 93% of those who have died in Ireland due to COVID-19 have been aged over 65.[2] Less visible effects of COVID-19 on older people include a lack of access to healthcare for non-COVID-19 conditions, neglect and abuse in institutions and care facilities, an increase in poverty, income insecurity and unemployment, the impact of cocooning on wellbeing and mental health and the impact of stigma and discrimination.[3] Many older people saw their care support threatened by COVID-19 due to their care support needs or by living in high-risk environments such as institutions.[4]

 

Diversity of Experience and Situation

Response measures around COVID fails to reflect the diversity of experience and resilience in older age. It has ‘entrenched ageism, including age-based discrimination and stigmatization of older persons’[5] and put a focus on vulnerability over autonomy.[6] This diminished older people’s contribution to society, ability to move in public without judgement, and the dignity of acknowledgement of their diversity.

The voices, perspectives, and expertise of older people in identifying problems and solutions are sometimes not sufficiently incorporated in policymaking, particularly on subjects where older persons are affected by the decisions under consideration.[7] As noted by the UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, while older people have become highly visible in the COVID-19 outbreak, their voices, opinions and concerns have not been heard.[8]

In addition to the tragic loss of life, older people have experienced social isolation and a diminution of their status as equal stakeholders in the national discourse. The language of vulnerability, frailty and protection from harm has failed to acknowledge their agency and their diversity. 

Government policy on cocooning for all over 70s did not include older people in the development of, or changes to, this policy. Government narrative presented the advice as standard for older people, rather than empowering people’s autonomy by presenting people’s risks and choices.

The blanket link of cocooning advice to physical age did not incorporate the different conditions and realities of older persons so as not to increase their social isolation and worsen their wellbeing and health outcomes.[9]

The balancing of social inclusion with clinical need was not seen in relation to cocooning. Rather than linking cocooning advice to physical health alone, age-specific cocooning advice for Ireland (e.g. for all over 70s) exacerbated negative stereotypes about older people as frail and vulnerable. The linking of cocooning to age, in turn, led to broader public narrative focusing on older people as dependent and a sense in the community that older people seen in public locations should not be there. In addition, many older people experienced a disproportionate impact on daily life as a result of Government’s lack of clarity in public health advice that cocooning was not mandatory.

Age Action heard from many older people themselves that they felt left outside the decision-making process and their voices were not heard. They felt that Government should have consulted with them and facilitated their participation in policy decisions that affect their lives.

 

Whole of Government Approach to Ageing
Age Action and Active Retirement Ireland identified these priority policy measures for the Government in 2020.

Valuing Ageing in Society

A national poll commissioned by RTÉ in September, the details of which are released on International Day of Older Persons examined how people across the country have adapted since the start of the coronavirus crisis. 90% of teenagers saying they value their family life more now.  A focus on mental health and a desire for change in our lives were strong themes in the results. Over half (57%) of respondents said they are "re-evaluating what they are doing with their lives" since the pandemic took hold in March.

COVID-19 forces us to re-evaluate what we value in our lives. As we look to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as a society it is crucial that older people are not further left behind and that enduring inequalities which have been exacerbated as a result of the pandemic are addressed.

Footnotes

1] Scottish Human Rights Commission (22 July 2020) Submission to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, Inquiry COVID-19. Available at https://www.scottishhumanrights.com/media/2063/covid-19-ehric-submission.pdf.

[2] 1,645 people over 65 had died from COVID-19 in Ireland representing 93% of a total of 1,764 deaths

[3] See https://www.un.org/development/desa/ageing/news/2020/05/covid-19-older-persons

[4] OHCHR (27 March 2020) ‘Unacceptable” – UN expert urges better protection of older persons facing the highest risk of the COVID-19 pandemic’. Available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25748.

[5] UN Secretary General (May 2020) Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on older persons.  Available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/ageing/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2020/05/COVID-Older-persons.pdf.

[6] OHCHR (27 March 2020) ‘Unacceptable” – UN expert urges better protection of older persons facing the highest risk of the COVID-19 pandemic’. Available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25748

[7] UN Secretary General (May 2020) Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on older persons.  Available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/ageing/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2020/05/COVID-Older-persons.pdf.

[8] OHCHR (27 March 2020) ‘Unacceptable” – UN expert urges better protection of older persons facing the highest risk of the COVID-19 pandemic’. Available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=2574

[9] UN DESA (2020) ‘COVID-19 and Older Persons: A Defining Moment for an Informed, Inclusive and Targeted Response’. Available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/ageing/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2020/05/PB_68.pdf.

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PAW Raffle Winners

Thank you all for your patience during the last number of weeks and for your understanding that due to the COVID-19 crisis we were not in a position to hold the Positive Ageing Week Raffle. Today, we were finally able to do the draw and we list below the lucky winners.

We wish the winners well and trust they will have a happy time spending their winnings. It certainly brightened up their day when we told them earlier. Thanks again to all those who entered as all proceeds from the raffle will help us to continue to provide much needed services to older people over the coming months.

Keep safe and well.

1st Prize - €1500 -  V. McGowne.  Dublin.

2nd Prize - €1000 – A. Smyth.  Dublin.

3rd Prize - €500 – B. O’Brien.  Cork.

Sellers Prize - €100 – M. Moran.  Kerry.