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Successful Aging: A silver tsunami? Let’s look at opportunities for an older population instead

Dear Readers,

The United Nations General Assembly dedicated one day, October 1, as the National Older Person Day.

If you’re wondering why, it’s because of demography, population and growth.

Here are the facts: By 2050, 20 percent, or two billion individuals of the world’s population, will be 60 years and older. Currently, 700 million are over the age of 60. The increase from 700 million to a projected two billion is considered the greatest and most rapid increase in older adults in the developing world. We don’t have to wait that long for an increase. Between 2015 and 2030, the number of people aged 60 and over is expected to increase from 901 million to 1.4 billion.

Currently, Asia has the largest number of older persons while Africa has the largest proportionate growth, which means the greatest increase in percentage. These increases require us to pay attention to the challenges that come with this growth as well as the contributions the majority of older men and women are making to our society. The qualifier, according to leaders of the special day, indicates that the solutions to age-related problems can occur if adequate guarantees are in place. That guarantee is a commitment to human rights.

The theme of this global 2019 effort, “The Journey to Age Equality,” is about inclusiveness and empowering older persons by promoting their active participation in social, economic and political life. The journey is designed to ensure equal opportunity to live a quality life and eliminating the obstacle of discrimination.

Let’s take a closer look at what that theme means. Inclusiveness for older adults applies to opportunities for employment, economic security, health, dignity and the opportunity to vote. The United Nations is advocating for an age-friendly world.

Let’s move from a global vision to the state of California. Governor Gavin Newsom acknowledged that California’s over-65 population also is rapidly expanding and is projected to grow to 8.6 million by 2030. In response to this growth, the governor signed an executive order calling for the creation of a California Master Plan for Aging to be developed by October 2020. It will serve as a blueprint that can be used by state government, local communities, private organizations and philanthropy to build environments that promote healthy aging. The goal is to make California a place where everyone can age with dignity and independence, acknowledging that age touches every public policy in California.

The SCAN Foundation recently hosted a forum in Sacramento for this 2020 plan to discuss what can be learned from other states. One part of the forum was a video that captured the experiences and thoughts of older adults and their personal challenging situations.

We heard, “We need to know someone cares,” “It’s not that we didn’t think about aging, we just didn’t see ourselves doing it,” and “I just need a purpose.” One man noted, “We have a housing crisis; I put in 40-45 applications; heard from ten and was put on a waiting list. The longest was seven years; the shortest was two years.”

Then there was caregiving. “I can’t get a job because I am taking care of my mother.” A spokeswoman for the Older Adult and Lavender Services, an LGBTQ group representing 1.5 million in California notes, “All we need is love and to be treated with dignity and respect.”

During breakfast, I sat next to Carmen in her mid-70s who was featured in the SCAN video. My breakfast mate was clear in her message. “Know that you are going to get old and plan for it; we need to save and must learn how to manage.”

(Note: I spoke at the forum on the subject of employment.)

Now let’s get local. On May 18, 2016, the County and City of Los Angeles joined the worldwide network of age-friendly cities and communities for an important goal: to become more age-friendly within our diverse cultures and our social and economic communities to promote healthy and active aging for a good quality of life.

These global, state, county and city plans are paying attention to older adults and the need for changes in our physical environment, supportive services and opportunities for optimum social and emotional well-being.

So, let’s not think of a silver tsunami that creates fear and dread. Rather think of this time as one of enormous opportunities for changes at all levels of society that will enable each of us to age with dignity, purpose and security – with opportunities to give back. I am hopeful.

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