International Day of Older Persons celebrates value, contribution to society

By Vanessa Wiltshire

“I'm here to write a story,” I told Rachel, a resident at Heathcote Health Aged Care last Tuesday.

“It’s International Day of Older Persons,” I continued. “I want to write about the important contributions the older generation have made to our society.”

Rachel’s shoulders slumped and the smile disappeared from her face.

“We don't contribute much when we get to this age,” she said dejectedly.

“That’s not true,” I replied, shaking my head. “I’m only just beginning to appreciate what the generations before me have done. The sacrifices they have made. I think there is a lot we can learn, if we take the time to listen.”

Rachel's eyes fixed on mine and her smile returned. She began talking.

In a youth-obsessed society, International Day of Older Persons is a day of recognition.

Designated by the UN in 1990, it is held annually on October 1. IDOP draws attention to the contributions older generations have made and the work they have done to shape the opportunities of today.

IDOP also raises awareness of the challenges of ageing.

Older people have always played a significant role in society as leaders, caretakers and custodians of tradition. Yet they are also highly vulnerable, with many falling into poverty, becoming disabled or facing discrimination.

Globally there are 1 billion people aged over 60. In Australia, more than 3.8 million Australians are aged 65 and over. By 2027 the figure is expected to reach 5.2 million people.

By 2030, the global number of people over 60 will nudge 1.4 billion. Youth will be outnumbered, as well as children under the age of 10. This presents challenge but also opportunity.

As healthcare and medical technology improves, especially in developed countries, people are living — and are able to work — longer.

What are the benefits of a society where people can contribute for longer? What are the opportunities for a society where people feel valued, recognised and appreciated across their entire lifespan?

What could this look in Heathcote, a town that is also ageing?

Born on the cusp of the Great Depression, Rachel's generation have seen change unlike any other. Their experience, knowledge and wisdom should not be underestimated.

In her lifetime, Rachel can recollect a world war, black and white AND colour television, computers, and the social transformation of the '60s. She has seen globalisation, the rise and fall of world markets. And, arguably, the mother of all inventions: the internet and digital technology.

Never expecting to stay at Heathcote Health "this long", Rachel says she has had a "fortunate and incredible" life. The youngest of seven children, Rachel had six brothers. She grew up in Melbourne’s north, in a suburb that no longer exists. She and her husband travelled around Australia as missionaries, working with indigenous communities. "One of the most wonderful times of my life,” she said.

The change that occurred within three generations of Rachel's birth is astonishing.

Her grandmother was "born in a tent" on the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne.

Her great-grandparents came to Australia by boat. They had a baby at sea, who sadly died before reaching shore.

Rachel and I reflect on the incredibly tough times her forebears faced. I wonder what her generation have to teach us about resilience.

“I don’t know where to begin. So much has happened in my life, I could talk all day,” she said.

The McIvor Times also met with Ken, Margaret and Button. Each is at their own stage of the ageing journey. Every human life is valuable, there is so much to learn, we just need to take the time.

If you would like to volunteer at Heathcote Health, contact Michelle Chapman on (03) 5431 0900.