Positive Ageing: The Role of Social Work from Cradle to Grave

by Vida Douglas

AgeingAgeing is a global issue which impacts all societies and consistently presents us with many challenges and opportunities to protect our communities from cradle to grave. A key question facing politicians and practitioners of social work is what will be the experiences and quality of ageing for our elderly in the future? In 2012, the United Nations published a report, entitled, ‘An Ageing World Demands Wiser Policies.’ which recommended that we needed to do more to prepare for the impact of a rapidly ageing population. In an attempt not to sound too pessimistic, it is important that we recognise that there has been an increase in the ageing population largely due to improved health and social care services, shaping the quality of living for the elderly particularly in western/high income countries. We certainly have no reason to be complacent, as the evidence suggests; whilst older people are living longer invariably too many spend the later stage of their life in poor health, poverty, and social isolation.

What is the extent of the ageing population? Projections for the UK suggest that the population for those aged 65 years and over is likely to increase by 23% from 10.3 million in 2010 to 12.7 in 2018. The picture is similar elsewhere, in America this year Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of economic advisers, commented that the ageing workforce was a key influence on the low labour participation rate experienced in the US. Current statistics on the ageing population in America, suggests that the population aged >65 years is anticipated to increase from 12.4% in 2000 to 19.6% in 2030.

The growing debates about the impact of our ageing population, in terms of the potential burden to health and social care provisions has been a central focus for many nations. However, in reality the majority of care for the elderly takes place through informal care provided by the family and not the state. Furthermore, with increasing Governments preoccupation with welfare provisions and benefits it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the issue of an ageing population is so much more than just about pensions. In the end, we are talking about a significant number of people that have contributed, shaped and continue to live in our communities.

The challenge facing social work professionals is to ensure that the strategies we employ when working with our elderly promotes positive ageing. The key elements of a positive ageing strategy is to  recognise the individual rights and choices of the elderly, but this needs to be measured against their capacity, the information available to them and the quality of support services ( formal or informal) that they are able to access. To further improve the support provided to our elderly we need to have access to evidence-based research and knowledge, about the narratives and experiences of the diverse elderly population, this can truly inform our understanding about the nature of living and dying in our society today. Improved health and social care support services require a shift in terms of cultural and organisational structures which encourage creativity and are reactive to the changing needs of our growing elderly population. These represent, the essential features of a positive ageing strategy that can help to ensure elderly people experience positive ageing in the 21st century and beyond.  The 1 October 2013 represent a global celebration of all older people, the UN has pronounced this will be the International Day of Older Person. Let us take up the challenge, and play an active role in planning a special activity or initiative that will contribute to positive ageing in our society.

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Vida Douglas

Vida Douglas is the Regular Contributor for Social Work Helper. She is currently an External Examiner at University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom for the social work undergraduate degree. Vida is also the Discipline Lead for Social Work and Social Policy at the Higher Education Academy. View all posts by Vida Douglas

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