Celebrate, but remember; a look at the UN Day of Older Persons

shutterstock_45554728Patricia Conboy, Policy Manager at the British Geriatrics Society, takes a look at the UN International Day of Older Persons, taking place on 1st October 2015.

Google ‘UN International Day of Older Persons’ and your screen will light up with images of healthy, happy, smiling older people, usually with perfect teeth. There are countless online invitations to join in celebrations of the day all over the UK.

As it happens, tomorrow is the 25th Anniversary of the first UN International Day of Older People. Overall, there has been extraordinary progress in building older people’s access to human rights and their entitlements to healthcare and social protection during this period. For those of us who can, it is a day to celebrate. But there are still too many older people whose lives are blighted by poverty, abuse, discrimination and preventable ill health. Here are some of my top pluses and minuses of the moment:

On the plus side at the international level, the UN this month adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a universal agenda for action on poverty, inequality and the environment. Older people have previously been left out of development programmes and planning,  but his time, according to Age International, the SDGs for 2016 to 2030 include an ‘overarching commitment to leave no-one behind’. There are seventeen SDGs: the third gives an explicit commitment ‘to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

But this is a goal with shadow side: one of the targets under goal 3 is that premature mortality from non-communicable diseases should be reduced by one third by 2030.  Since death before the age of 70 is described as premature, this target represents a significant disappointment for NGOs and academics who lobbied for a target based instead on preventable mortality. Their concern was that a definition based on premature mortality would allow governments to deny prevention, cure or care to the majority of people suffering from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, lung disease and dementia. There is the minus, and this is a space to watch.

Again on the plus side, Help Age International has developed a very useful Global AgeWatch Index which ranks 96 countries worldwide as places in which to grow old.

Switzerland is ranked 1st in the world and can celebrate the fact that life expectancy at age 60 is 25 years and that healthy life expectancy at age 60 is 19 years. The UK ranks 10th in the world, with a life expectancy at age 60 of 24 years and healthy life expectancy at age 60 of  17.7 years.  Afghanistan ranks 96th in the world: there, life expectancy at age 60 is 16 years and healthy life expectancy at 60 is 9.3 years.  In the UK, 66.4 % of people aged 60+ have attained secondary or higher education.  In Afghanistan, the comparable percentage is 5.2% of the population aged 60+.  If that is not a negative, I don’t know what is.

On the plus side in the UK – and this is an amazing plus – people of all ages have access to universal healthcare provided by the NHS.  On the minus side, the effectiveness of care provided to older people by NHS England is directly affected by problems in the social care system which has experienced cuts of 31% in real terms since 2010.  The result is that at least 400,000 fewer disabled and older people are now receiving publicly funded help with home care or residential care services.

More worrying still is the evidence that a significant number of older people within the social care system are not safe. According to media reports, the Care Quality Commission is receiving 150 allegations daily of abuse people of older people with frailty in English social care settings. An update given to the board of the CQC last week showed that 41% of community-based adult social care services, hospice services and residential social care services inspected since last October were inadequate or required improvement.

Yes, celebrate International Day of Older People 2015 but remember our peers who have little to celebrate.  In sum: much done, but more to do.

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