We often use the term ‘I feel old’ rather than ‘I am old’. Maybe there’s something telling in how we express our age. My gran always dodged the age question by responding with “I’m as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.” Never would she tell us her age.
In six months I will be 50. Five. Zero. That’s a notably half decent number in cricketing terms but not so much if you were playing darts. I suppose it’s a significant number, as is any birthday with the zero on the end, apparently.
When I fill forms in I know that shortly I won’t be in the 45-49 category anymore but I’ve never really felt different because I’ve reached a certain age. With everything I’m involved in at work with colleagues and at home with family and friends, I’ve really not thought about it as ‘the big Five O’. Until today that is.
Every year, people around the world recognise 1st October as International Day of Older People (IDOP). On my work to do list is a task to help promote what is going on in Leeds to celebrate IDOP. So we had a chat in the office about what we thought defines being an ‘older person’ and what would constitute ‘celebrating’ being old, if indeed that is what people who deem themselves older would actually want. A colleague suggested it wasn’t necessarily about reaching a specific age such as 60 or 70 but it perhaps depended on who was considering it. Her thoughts were that it was anybody who is 20 years older than you. That made sense.
So I looked round the office for people who might be 20 years younger than me. There’s a couple who are probably 30 years younger and just starting out in their working lives. Ouch! Do they consider me old or an older person? Do I consider myself as old? Obviously not, although if I don’t take a cod liver oil tablet every day, I feel it more than I used to and people’s headphones seem to be increasingly annoying me on the bus.
My upcoming birthday and the day for older people are supposed to be purposely significant. But in reality they are just one day in 365. They might even be days that some don’t want to be reminded of. My mum perhaps! Imagine your child getting to 50.
Further down my work to do list, there’s another task; support promotion of Leeds as an Age Friendly City. My first thoughts were here we go again Dementia Friendly, Child Friendly, Best City for Health and Wellbeing, Better Lives and now Age Friendly. To some it might seem all the same thing and who really decides what is or isn’t friendly or best or age related and surely there’s some overlap? And do all these perceived strap lines help or hinder explaining what’s on offer? Well, it’s my job to offer support in this area. So I took myself off to a local cafe for a think and to read the background about Age Friendly.
Backed by the World Health Organisation, the Age Friendly Cities Programme is an international effort to help cities prepare for two global demographic trends: the rapid ageing of populations and increasing urbanisation. The programme targets the environmental, social and economic factors that influence the health and wellbeing of older adults.Things like;
· outdoor spaces and buildings;
· social participation;
· respect and social inclusion;
· civic participation and employment;
· communication and information; and
· community support and health services.
There’s more info available here.
What I did note was by 2020 it is predicted there will be roughly 9,000 men and 22,000 women over the age of 75 living in Leeds. Over 30,000. It’s not really that many when compared against the 900,000+ folk who may be living here by then however it becomes really significant when I add the last two words of the sentence; ‘living alone’. There will be more over 75s not living alone but Age UK suggest nationally around 1 million older people regularly go an entire month without speaking to anyone. On their own. Forgotten.
The real issue is about what being an older person means for those 75+ year olds – specifically being alone. It is well documented with the national campaign against loneliness stating being lonely or socially isolated can have the same effect on a person’s health and wellbeing as smoking 15 cigarettes a day does on physical health. Not good. And people of any age can be lonely or socially isolated too.
So can Leeds really be Age Friendly or Child Friendly when there are this many lonely people? In thinking about it, talking and asking what these things mean to different folk, we get a better understanding so we can combat loneliness and the other things that Leeds can be better at. The bullet points above which help put context to any strap lines they sit under.
I realised when I was in the cafe reading about the Age Friendly concept and thinking about how helpful a strap line it might or might not be, that I’d not thought about my impending 50th. That’s a good thing and probably because, and I’m lucky and thankful, I have good health, great colleagues, and caring family and friends. My parents both still play golf twice a week, something I aspire to. It made me think. What will Leeds be like in 2040 when I’m 75 and 2065 if I knock off the full century? Will it be ready for many more centurians?
I can see how others might not have health or luck, whether 75, 50 or 20 they may be lonely. I also see that tackling loneliness doesn’t solely lie at the door of a department or organisation just because it has the name Adults or Children’s in the title, it’s becoming a shared responsibility and one where people also need to help themselves to keep as fit and healthy as possible.
I can also see it’s not necessarily about what it means to be an older or younger person but perhaps more about how we experience and react to things happening to us and around us. And perhaps also about realisation that these experiences and reactions may change for us over time. Things don’t just happen at certain ages.
This year the IDOP theme is around culture; another term that’s not so easy to define but maybe that’s an advantage and no doubt will help the city in planning whether to go for the Leeds 2023 European Capital of Culture bid.
IDOP for me is not so much about celebrating but about including people and ensuring we make Leeds the best it can be, whatever age we are.
As for my love of straplines, perhaps I’ll mellow with age!
It’s about telling the story behind the title. I see this one now as it will become my story and fortunately; it’s my job to tell it.
I do however like how Leeds Older People’s Forum describe it; ‘a city for all ages’.