From the Worldwide Faith News archives

United Nations launches year of older persons

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 06 Oct 1998 14:13:23

Oct. 6 1998	Contact: Linda Bloom*(212) 870-3803*New York       {572}

UNITED NATIONS (UMNS) --  As a child in Panama, Esmeralda Brown found
security in the strong, intergenerational family structure that
supported her.

Nowadays, however, those structures - in Panama and elsewhere - cannot
meet the needs of a growing elderly population. 

"We no longer can count on the church and the family to alleviate the
worst cases of deprivation of the elderly," said Brown, a staff member
with the Women's Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

She was among the speakers at the United Nations' Oct. 1 launch of the
1999 International Year of Older Persons. The year's theme is "Towards a
Society for All Ages."

One of the year's events will be an Oct. 16, 1999, satellite
teleconference on aging produced by the United Methodist Teleconference

The observance points to the fact that the number of people age 60 and
older will reach 600 million by the year 2001. It is projected to hit
1.2 billion by the year 2025, with more than 70 percent of those people
living in developing countries.

This "silent revolution" extends beyond demographics to the need for an
enabling environment for a healthy lifestyle as people age, according to
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"A society for all ages is one that does not caricature older persons as
patients and pensioners," he said.

Noting that his 60th birthday had occurred less than six months ago,
Annan added: "I am an older person, and I'm proud of it."

The observance of the International Year of Older Persons is a way to
place issues facing the elderly on the public agenda, said Julia
Alvarez, the Dominican Republic ambassador who was instrumental in
urging the U.N. General Assembly to designate the year.

"Perception precedes politics," she declared. "The image of older people
as full, useful and active citizens must become firmly implanted in the
popular imagination."

In her keynote address, Gunhild Hagestad, a sociology professor at both
Agder College in Norway and Northwestern University in Illinois, noted
that "many of the present oldest old never expected to reach their
current age." Early in the century, she explained, disease, famine and
other dangers often interrupted lives.

The rapid changes in survival patterns not only have created "surprised
survivors," but also have overwhelmed planners and politicians unready
to deal with the burgeoning elderly population, she said. The same
improvements in living conditions have resulted in "the largest-ever
generation of young people on every continent except Europe," she said.

Among the lessons learned about aging during recent decades is that "old
dogs can learn new tricks," Hagestad said. "Our basic abilities stay
remarkably stable into old age. ...With maturity may come increased
readiness to live without clarity and closure, but with a clearer sense
of priorities."

Being old does not mean being sick and helpless. "In societies with
sizable populations of old-old people, studies have shown that even
among individuals over 80, a majority manage daily living on their own,"
she said.

But social support is critical in maintaining productive activity and
psychological functioning. And old age encompasses both biographical and
historical time. "Different historical generations age differently, and
consequently, we can in no way assume that today's 60-year-old will be
like current 80-year-olds in 20 years," Hagestad pointed out.

Developing a "society for all ages," she said, means fighting age
segregation in housing and social settings; maintaining historical
conversations between the old and the young; and finding continuity, in
terms of both needs and opportunities, across various phases of life.

More information on the International Year of Older Persons is available
from Global Action on Aging, a nonprofit organization that focuses on
the needs of the elderly, at (212) 557-3163.
# # #

United Methodist News Service
Releases and photos also available at

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home