Time to celebrate: International Day of Older Persons

Every day Christy and I take a walk around our quiet Anchorage neighborhood. We regularly bump into other older folks out for a stroll, gardening, maybe playing with pets or grandkids on the front lawn. A sense of wellbeing infuses the air. It’s nice. It’s comfortable. It’s our world, but it is not the rest of the world. Well then, what is it like for older people in the rest of the world? Enter stage left...the United Nations.

The United Nations is the largest intergovernmental organization in the world. It was founded in October 1945. Its original charter indicated that the organization would focus on objectives such as maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development, and upholding international law. At the time there were 51 member states. Now there are 193 member states which represent nearly every sovereign state in the world – and every one of them is increasingly concerned about the status of older persons. Why? Because,

“By 2050, one in six people in the world will be over age 65 (16%), up from one in 11 in 2019 (9%). By 2050, one in four persons living in Europe and Northern America could be aged 65 or older. In 2018, for the first time in history, persons aged 65 or above outnumbered children under five years of age globally. The number of persons aged 80 years or older is projected to triple, from 143 million in 2019 to 426 million in 2050.”

Source: https://un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/ageing/

In 1982 the United Nations sponsored the first World Assembly on Ageing. It was underwhelming. Looking back 20 years later, Kofi Annan -- Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 through 2006 -- explained that at the time “...population ageing was mostly a concern of developed countries,” and “...ageing may have been thought by some to be a stand-alone issue or afterthought.” However, just a couple of decades later, world leaders had developed a vastly different appreciation of the issue of population aging.

The United Nations sponsored the second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002. It went way better than the first one. Summing it up, Secretary General Kofi Annan noted that it focused “on three priority areas: older persons and development; advancing health and well-being into old age; and ensuring enabling and supportive environments.” In addition, “It is a resource for policy-making, suggesting ways for governments, non-governmental organizations, and other actors to reorient the ways in which their societies perceive, interact with, and care for their older citizens.”

So, the world leaders had finally taken notice of us. Good start.

In recognition of the growing presence and importance of older persons on the world stage, in 1990 the United Nations General Assembly declared October 1 United Nations International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP). 2020 is an especially notable year because this year marks both the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations and the 30th Anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons. The objectives of UNIDOP 2020 focus on issues that affect older persons around the world:

to inform participants about objectives of the World Health Organization Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020 to 2030)

to raise awareness of the special health needs of older persons, and of their contributions to their own health and to the functioning of the societies in which they live to increase awareness and appreciation of the role of the health care workforce in maintaining and improving the health of older persons, with special attention to the nursing profession

to present proposals for reducing the health disparities between older persons in the developed and developing countries, so as to “leave no one behind”

and to increase understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on older persons and its impact on health care policy, planning and attitudes.

In sum, October first is our special day, celebrated around the world, and 2020 is a landmark year for older persons around the world. On the one hand we have some major issues to confront that include the pandemic and that are also made vastly more difficult because of the pandemic. Embrace the challenges with your carefully considered votes in the upcoming elections. Join and support organizations that express your values and wield the influence necessary to make a difference. Celebrate even the smallest victories with wild dancing in the streets! Of course, a stroll around the neighborhood or a Zoom meeting with friends or family works almost as well.

Author Bio

Lawrence D. Weiss is a UAA Professor of Public Health, Emeritus, creator of the UAA Master of Public Health program, and author of several books and numerous articles.