Today  (1st October) marks Older People’s Day in the UK and also the International Day of Older Persons, which makes it a good time to reflect on how older people are perceived and treated across the world.

HelpAge recently published its Global AgeWatch Index 2015, which “ranks countries by how well their older populations are faring.” It looks at income security, health status, capability (for example employment) and enabling societies and environment (for example social connections and safety).

The UK is in the top 10 places to grow old but the one thing the Index doesn’t measure is ageism. As the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:

Older persons make wide-ranging contributions to economic and social development. However, discrimination and social exclusion persist. We must overcome this bias in order to ensure a socially and economically active, secure and healthy ageing population.

It’s 2015 and older people are still depicted as vulnerable, frail, burdensome sufferers. Across the globe the ageing population is described as the silver tsunami or a ‘’challenge’’ the Government has to deal with.

Ageism happens everyday. It’s the elderly crossing signs on the edge of the road, it’s the use of the word ‘still’ when describing an older person’s achievement, it’s the advertising promising to erase signs of ageing, and it’s the sacking of Sir Tom Jones from The Voice by the BBC!

It’s discrimination pure and simple, impacting individuals and society as a whole yet it still continues. Madonna told the Sun newspaper earlier this year: “We’ve made so many advances in other areas – civil rights, gay rights – but ageism is still an area that’s taboo and not talked about and dealt with.’’

So let’s deal with it! Let’s acknowledge the power, wisdom and skills of older people globally, and rethink the way they are treated. Older people aren’t a burden, they make an enormous contribution to our community.

Just look at the role grandparents are increasingly playing in looking after their grandchildren. A recent study found grandparents are saving mothers and fathers across the country a whopping £8,000 a year in childcare.

They’re also the people who are most likely to volunteer, with 65-74 year olds volunteering the most frequently, or donate to a charity.

People over the age of 55 are rapidly becoming the biggest entrepreneurs in the developed world. In the US nearly a quarter of new businesses in 2013 were started by those aged 55 to 64. In Australia, 34% of all young firms are now led by seniorpreneurs.

And some of the world’s biggest thinkers are older people, coming from all walks of life including religion, politics and science. The Dalai Lama is 80, Desmond Tutu is 83, Stephen Hawking is 73 and Hillary Clinton is 67.

Age is not a medical condition, nor is it a time of misery. Just like any other stage, it’s a chance to grow and learn and to continue participating fully in life. It’s an opportunity and, if we’re lucky, we’ll all be older one day so isn’t it time to embrace it?

Sara

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Follow Sara McKee on Twitter @SaraMcKeeFRSA