We often use the term ‘I feel old’ rather than ‘I am old’. Maybe there’s something telling in how we express our age. But how do we know when we are old and how do we react when people tell us we might be?
In the build up to International Day of Older People on 1st October we will be looking at age and what it might mean to different people. We start with a post by a member of our communications team who has a significant birthday on the horizon but who maybe doesn’t see it that way.
My gran always dodged the age question by responding “I’m as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.” Never would she tell us her age. It became a bit of a game for us to try and find out.
In six months I will be 50. Five. Zero. That’s a notably half decent number in cricketing terms but not so much if you were playing darts. I suppose it’s a significant number, as is any birthday with the zero on the end, apparently.
When I fill forms in I know that shortly I won’t be in the 45-49 category ever again but I’ve never really felt different because I’ve reached a certain age. With everything I’m involved in at work with colleagues and at home with family and friends, I really haven’t thought about it as ‘the big Five O’.
Until today that is.
Every year, people around the world recognise 1st October as International Day of Older People (IDOP). On my work to do list is a task to help promote what is going on in Leeds to celebrate IDOP. So we had a chat in the office about what we thought defines being an ‘older person’ and what would constitute ‘celebrating’ being old, if indeed that is what people who deem themselves older would actually want. A colleague suggested it wasn’t necessarily about reaching a specific age such as 60 or 70 but it perhaps depended on who was considering it. Her thoughts were that it was anybody who is 20 years older than you. That made sense.
So I looked round the office for people who might be 20 years younger than me. There’s a couple who are probably 30 years younger and just starting out in their working lives. Ouch! Do they consider me old or an older person? Do I consider myself as old? Obviously not, although if I don’t take a cod liver oil tablet every day, I feel it more than I used to and people’s headphones seem to be increasingly annoying me on the bus.
My upcoming birthday and the day for older people are supposed to be purposely significant. But in reality they are just one day in 365. They might even be days that some don’t want to be reminded of. My mum perhaps! Imagine your child reaching the half century.
Further down my work to do list, there’s another task; support promotion of Leeds as an Age Friendly City. My first thoughts were here we go again Dementia Friendly, Child Friendly, Best City for Health and Wellbeing, Better Lives and now Age Friendly. To some it might seem all the same thing and who really decides what is or isn’t friendly or best or age related and surely there’s some overlap? And do all these perceived strap lines help or hinder explaining what’s on offer? Well, it’s my job to offer support in this area and I thought this post might help.
So I took myself off to a local cafe for a think and to read the background about Age Friendly. Backed by the World Health Organisation, the Age Friendly Cities Programme is an international effort to help cities prepare for two global demographic trends: the rapid ageing of populations and increasing urbanisation. The programme targets the environmental, social and economic factors that influence the health and wellbeing of older adults. Things like;
- outdoor spaces and buildings;
- social participation;
- respect and social inclusion;
- civic participation and employment;
- communication and information; and
- community support and health services.
There’s more info available here
What I noted was by 2020 it is predicted there will be roughly 9,000 men and 22,000 women over the age of 75 living in Leeds. Over 30,000. Is that a lot you may ask, just another statistic; a number perhaps. It’s not really that many when compared against the 900,000+ folk who may be living here by then.
However it becomes really significant when I add the last two words of the sentence; ‘living alone’. There will be more over 75s not living alone but Age UK suggest nationally around 1 million older people regularly go an entire month without speaking to anyone. On their own. Forgotten.
That’s really sad.
The real issue is about what being an older person means for those 75+ year olds – specifically being alone. It is well documented with the national campaign against loneliness stating being lonely or socially isolated can have the same effect on a person’s health and wellbeing as smoking 15 cigarettes a day does on physical health. Not good. And people of any age can be lonely or socially isolated too.
So can Leeds really be Age Friendly or Child Friendly when there are this many lonely people? In thinking about it, talking and asking what these things mean to different folk, we get a better understanding so we can combat loneliness and the other things that Leeds can be better at. The bullet points above.
I realised when I was in the cafe reading about the Age Friendly concept and thinking about how helpful a strap line it might or might not be, that I’d not thought (or worried) about my impending 50th. That’s a good thing and probably because, and I’m lucky and thankful, I have good health, great colleagues and a caring family and friends. But I can see how others might not have, whether 75, 50 or 20 and that combatting loneliness doesn’t solely lie at the door of a department or organisation just because it has the name Adults or Children’s in the title.
I can also see it’s not necessarily about what it means to be an older or younger person but perhaps more about how we experience and react to things happening to and around us. Also it’s about how we understand and accept that these experiences and reactions may change for us over time. Things don’t just happen at certain ages.
So what we will be doing for International Day of Older People (and no doubt for Age Friendly and Child Friendly too) is asking folk to explain what it’s like for them living in Leeds and what might make it better. This year the IDOP theme is around culture; another term that’s not so easy to define but maybe that’s an advantage and no doubt will help the city in planning whether to go for the Leeds 2023 European Capital of Culture bid.
For me, whilst there will be events held and things going on which we will be promoting nearer the time, IDOP is not so much about celebrating but about including people and ensuring we make Leeds the best it can be, whatever age. But with initiatives like IDOP and in our working towards being Age Friendly and with the recent announcement about the award of the Lotto grant to help reduce loneliness then there is potential to make a real difference.
As for my love of strap lines, perhaps I’ll mellow with age! I do however like how Leeds Older People’s Forum describe it; ‘a city for all ages’.
We would really like to hear what you think about what living in Leeds is like for you and on what you interpret as culture. Similarly if you have any anecdotes or thoughts on what makes you feel your age or comical age related stories then please let us know buy commenting below or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Aged 49 and some months.