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Opinion: Dublin is a great place to live, but not necessarily when you're old

By 2041, the number of people in this country over the age of 65 is predicted to reach 1.4 million.

Hugh O'Connor

EARLIER THIS YEAR, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Dublin among the top 20 most liveable cities in Europe, coming in ahead of other capitals like Rome and London. And rightly so. Dublin is a great place to live.

The challenge is, it’s not necessarily a great place in which to grow old.

Yesterday, Dublin City Age Friendly Alliance launched the Dublin City Age Friendly Strategy. The document sets out a framework which aims to make Dublin a great place for all Dubliners and visitors, regardless of age.

Value and respect

The goal is to create a city where older people are valued and respected, where their opinions are listened to and their needs are addressed. Through a cross-agency partnership, key action points have been identified under nine topics – outdoor space and buildings; transport; home and community; information; safety; learn, develop and work; health and active living; social, economic and political life; and value and respect.

The Dublin initiative forms part of a larger national Age Friendly Cities and Counties programme, which is being spearheaded by Age Friendly Ireland and which will make Ireland one of the first age-friendly countries in the world.

To date, 26 local authorities have signed up to the project and it is expected that by mid-2015, all 31 authorities will have signed or committed to sign an age-friendly strategy.

Age-friendly

The central theme of the age-friendly initiative is the voice of the older person. Rather than older people being advisers to the programme, they are pivotal in determining and driving the key actions identified in each area.

We are all aware that Ireland’s population is ageing. By 2041, the number of people in this country over the age of 65 is predicted to reach 1.4 million. In the past, this changing demographic has been viewed as a negative, with concerning implications for pension costs and health service demands.

It is time for us to change the tone of the conversation around ageing. Undoubtedly, an increased older population presents challenges. But there are also tremendous opportunities to be garnered here.

Traditionally ageing has been viewed as a process of decline and dependency, which reinforces a negative stereotype. The truth is that older people are a diverse group. Only a very small percentage tends to be frail or disabled in some way. The vast majority continue to be important economic and social participants in society.

Caring for another

In 2011, more than 59,000 people over the age of 55 were providing regular unpaid personal support to someone with a long-term illness or disability. One in eight volunteers are aged over 65 and one in four of those providing informal help to neighbours and friends are over 50.

It is expected that by 2040 Ireland will qualify as an aged economy, an economy where consumption by older people surpasses that of youth.

Older people want to be involved in society. They want to contribute meaningfully to their communities. By not facilitating this participation and involvement, society is missing out on a wealth of experience and knowledge that has enormous value to society.

Small measures can make all the difference, like providing public transport which is appropriate to the older person, developing opportunities for older people to access formal or informal learning, curbing the over-reliance on the internet to disseminate information on public services.

It is time that we start seeing ageing as an achievement and something to be celebrated. Creating an age-friendly Ireland is, financially, a relatively low cost endeavour, but the potential rewards are immeasurable. The key is to keep the voice of the older person at the centre of the process, with a view to creating an age-friendly, inclusive Ireland.

Hugh O’Connor is the CEO of Age Friendly Ireland. 

Read: Elderly people ‘left languishing’ on nursing home waiting list>

Opinion: Ageism is far too prevalent, we need a cultural shift in how older people are perceived

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Hugh O'Connor

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