International Bulletin - August 1999
International Year of Older Persons Conference at UN
In recognition of a worldwide phenomenon, that is, men and women are living longer everywhere - an average of more than 20 years has been added to life; and to help meet the the challenge of the impact of the world's ageing population which is already presenting problems to Governments, the United Nations General Assembly decided to observe 1999 as the International Year of Older Persons with the theme, "Towards a Society for All Ages". At the meeting held last October at UN Headquarters to launch the year, many of the prominent speakers discussed not only the areas of concern for older persons but the need for new thinking, organization, role and relationships in families, neighborhoods, and nations.
In February of this year, an exciting 2-day conference was held at the UN to call aftention to the dramatic increase in longevity and its impact on communities worldwide. By the year 2020 the number of persons age 60 and over will be at 1.4 billion - an increase of 240% since 1980 and the fastest growth will be in developing countries. How will communities prepare for their changing roles? The way nations and their leaders build, rebuild and create homes, hospitals, open spaces and effective quality-of-life systems needs serious attention.
The Conference was sponsored by the International Council for Caring Communities, Inc. whose mission is to help communities worldwide address the social, economic, and cultural impact of aging population in the design and planning of a better quality of life for all ages in the 21st Century. It addressed these concerns by focusing mainly on the issue of housing and strategies for barrier-free dwellings that can be adapted to the needs of inhabitants as they age. It stressed the need for intergenerational interaction with integrating activities between the old and the young people. By encouraging innovative design concepts in building villages and cities for all generations, the goal towards a community for all will be realized.
The two-day-long series of events and discussions were extremely interesting and informative. The discussions centered on successful ideas that address the longevity factor and on innovative projects, products and services. One of the unique features of the Conference was the collaborative exhibition of student projects from six New York interior design schools. Each school was asked to select a site within their neighborhoods with a population of over 500 elderly people for research. The program called for renovation of existing premises, buildings or facilities used by the community to ensure the best possible accessibility and comfort for the aged. In addition, issues of environmental sustainability had to be incorporated into the design solution. The students' projects were on display in a central area of the UN and were indeed a showcase of innovative design concepts that feature accessibility, safety, usability, ease of operation, and adaptability allowing older persons to remain independent and self-sufficient. The projects' environment designs provide the older generation with surroundings that compensate for the aging characteristics (changes in the senses, in physical strength and mobility) and thus allowing them freedom of movement and involvement within a wider universe of communal activity.
The growth of the global older population, living longer and more productively is considered one of the most challenging demographic trends for the 21 century. Older persons are an untapped resource in all societies with a wealth of knowledge, skills, diverse cultural heritages and lifelong experiences which must be utilized to help societies accommodate to this unprecedented population shift. If governments and civil societies do not invest in our elderly, we are losing resources, legacies, and the continuity of generations. Hopefully, in this UN Year of the Older Person, NGOs will hold receptions, meetings, etc. to disseminate information and raise consciousness about the graying of the population.
Last Modified: June 05, 2010