Today is United Nations’ International Day of Older Persons.
1 October was designated as such 24 years ago (Dec 1990) in response to the global opportunities, as well as the challenges, created by an increasingly ageing population.
Keeping the focus on promoting the development of a society for all ages, this year’s theme is ‘Leaving No One Behind: Promoting a Society for All’. The ambition is to address the issues around an ageing population with particular emphasis on understanding how best to embrace a sustainable future for a society that is expected to have 1.4 billion people over the age of 60 by 2030.
The irreversible process of an expanding older generation is due to higher fertility rates, better living standards, and medical advancements. The proportion of persons aged 60 and over is predicted to double in forty years, while those over 80 will quadruple. Issues around ‘older people protection’ remain focused on health, housing, environment, nutrition as well as family and social enjoyment. The hope is that if we can keep these at good levels, the percentage of elderly continuing in employment, education and ultimately self-fulfilment, will continue to rise.
With better accessibility to today’s many different and diverse destinations, travellers and tourists are able to appreciate the many different ways older generations affect their society. For my part I have always enjoyed watching the positive impact of the elderly. Whether commanding respect for their religious, political or hierarchical position, or simply drawing people in with their serene manner, wisdom or inane sense of contented happiness, older people are always remarkable – whether they be in a market, bazaar, souk, festival, religious extravaganza, gentle piazza, busy bus station or family celebration. Their dignity, as much as joie de vivre, rises above the madding crowd.
For a photographer, the character, history and at times plight of an older person’s face wins through every time. Travelling through the busier areas of the developing world it is also easy to see how the increased number of older people is taking its toll. There is a continued emphasis on direct family support stepping into the breach, in instances where developed societies might rely more heavily on state support. Whatever continent you visit you cannot fail to notice the variation in support of and respect for the elderly. Whether it is because the bulk of the world’s elderly lives in climates where they can enjoy the outside environment without risking the possibility of catching a death cold, or because other cultures simply embrace their senior citizens more wholeheartedly, the grace with which other societies’ senior citizens conduct their business has always intrigued me.
So much so that when I take a photograph, capturing the image of someone’s character, as well as their history and experience, has always been as important to me as trying to take a good photo in its own right.
I hope that this collection of images of older people (taken across five different continents), helps to celebrate International Day of Older Persons. In each case I remember the individual vividly, even though some of the images were taken several years ago. Engaging with them, even if only for a split second, has left me with something. I will let you reflect on the individual message each image portrays.
There are reasons to be positive. For example, while on the face of it the Western world appears to fall behind with its care for the elderly, a more promising change appears to be focused on older people’s contribution to the economy. For example, a 2011 WRVS (Royal Voluntary Service) survey quantifying the role of older generations concluded that people aged 65-plus contributed almost £40bn more to the UK economy than the state laid out for them. Predictions remain still more positive with the baby-boomers, who are projected to contribute a total of £75bn by 2030.
Figures worth bandying about this Sunday when it is ‘Grandparents Day’.