GOLDEN YEARS

15 April 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The view is sometimes expressed that the older members of our community are among those whose needs are most neglected.
How to cater for an ageing population is an important contemporary debate. While health and social care groups engage meaningfully with the issue and seek to identify service deficits and address them, some commercial forces operating in our midst cannot be accused of inactivity in this area.
The advertising industry and those who avail of it have woken up to the fact that older citizens often have a reservoir of savings at their disposal, and enough insecurities to enable them to be easily parted from a portion of it.
The advertising segments in daytime television, for example, now routinely bombard the older viewer with words and images designed to prey on their common fears.
They are reminded that they can easily grow ill or infirm, become vulnerable to crime, or die suddenly and intestate to the deep distress of their family, and even their pets, but that these dreadful outcomes can be avoided if they make a certain purchase or investment.
And maybe they have some old, unwanted jewellery lying around that can be converted into some financial peace of mind for themselves and their loved ones. They don’t have to be a burden after all.
While this form of promotion touches upon important considerations for any older person, it is a cynical exercise in the main and one cannot endure a prolonged exposure to it without acquiring a bad taste in the mouth.
A much more positive view of the older citizen, one that sees them as a valuable community resource rather than an exploitable one, was put forward by Catherine McGuigan, the North-East Programme Manager of the Age Friendly initiative, when she addressed the members of Co Monaghan Vocational Education Committee on Monday.
Ms McGuigan was beginning the important process of recruiting the involvement of public bodies to a project to better prepare the county to cater for the needs of an increased older population.
The objective is to establish an Older People’s Alliance, informed by a forum representative of all the local bodies who stakehold in this area, so that relevant services are delivered in an enhanced, co-ordinated and streamlined manner.
The most admirable facet of the initiative is that it will be crucially informed by the views of older people themselves, who will have a determining say in its priorities.
The scheme unveiled by Ms McGuigan seems an excellent one, meriting the active input of the public and voluntary sectors to whom it will be detailed in the months to come, and its potential beneficiaries who will have the opportunity through a public consultation process to make a defining input.
Services for the older citizen form an issue that concerns us all, because if we achieve longevity we will all need them. Yet the thought of growing old is one that our increasingly youth-oriented culture encourages us to push away.
We will never entirely dissociate growing old from a sense of fear. The older we get, the more our own mortality is impressed upon us. And there are the associated fears of enfeeblement and dependency that come with the prospect of our physical and mental capacities becoming depleted.
But today one doesn’t have to reach pension age to experience the accumulation of years negatively. Our current economic circumstances have seen many relatively young people encounter unemployment, redundancy or early retirement – and age, despite existing and proposed legislative safeguards against discrimination on these grounds, presents a considerable barrier to those seeking re-entry to gainful employment.
As Monday’s VEC presentation brought to light, a potentially enriching resource is being neglected here. Ms McGuigan referred to the concept of ‘wisdom in the workplace’, and advocated the adoption of business approaches where younger and older employees were brought together in mutually beneficial linkages, the one benefiting from the mentoring of the other while imparting in return knowledge of new technology and approaches that their senior colleagues need proficiency in.
Transferring the concept from theory into practice might not always be smooth given traditional workplace tensions and insecurities, but there is not a sector of employment in Co Monaghan that would not benefit from attempting to implement it.
Some of our most progressive and successful local businesses, such as Monaghan Mushrooms, already practice effective policies in this regard, and we feel it should be one of the new Alliance’s priorities to establish such an employment programme across the broader range of local industry and commerce.
Both young and older workers would profit from it, and it would ensure that the rich granary of practical knowledge that comes with experience would not be lost to businesses when senior employees retire.
One of the most relevant, and challenging, statistics to emerge from Monday’s meeting was Ms McGuigan’s revelation that, of the 6,750 people in our county aged 65 and over, two-thirds of that section of our population reside in rural areas, and one-third of them live alone.
Living outside the urban area does not of itself deprive older people of the support services they require – indeed, such is the accentuated sense of community and neighbourliness in our rural areas, they often enjoy a closer degree of human contact and are better ‘minded’ than their town-dwelling counterparts.
Yet such is the disseminated nature of our countryside population that many people experience rural isolation, and are vulnerable to feelings of loneliness or manifestations of poor mental health that can accentuate with age.
Not all those in need of the help to cope with these problems receive them. And even those who come into contact with support services may only engage with them reluctantly or desultorily.
For the many older people who live full and enriching lives as contributors to vibrant rural communities, there remains a sizeable number whose quality of life is greatly impoverished by their isolated geographical location, and whose pride or stoical disposition make them resistant to the assistance that would improve it.
A function which the proposed Alliance could usefully take on board, in tandem with community networks and health services, would be an audit of the population of our more isolated rural areas to identify those people who could most usefully benefit from the work upon which it intends to embark, but who are likely to remain beyond its reach if sensitive especial efforts are not made to involve them.
Hopefully the vision embedded in the Age Friendly initiative will take fertile root in Co Monaghan, and make a positive contribution to ensuring that all our future ‘Golden Years’ are fulfilling ones.

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