International Day of Older Persons a k a World Elderly Day

Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.

So true what Confucius wrote; real name Kong Qui, teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher

(551 – 478 BC). And in this day and age, the older person has even a better life: leisurely taking the years as they roll by, chilling out pleasant hours with friends, while some tax their brains over Bridge and Scrabble. There are even Bollywood dancing classes, of course at a slower pace; and yoga specially tailored for the elderly. So no wonder the older generation, particularly women over 70, look smart and totally engaged, thank goodness not in housework or being convenient ayahs to grandchildren but pursuing their own pursuits and in the rush keeping body and spirits well oiled and well tuned.

 

The passing of the decades

Thoughts of ageing and advanced age came to mind as celebrations of getting old were held here and there in our land. It was a mass birthday party for older folk. Some would say turning 60 qualifies you to being called a senior citizen. I disagree. In the sixth decade of one’s life, one was ready to give total thought and commitment to a task in hand, even if one is burdened with a disease of the older person: hypertension, rheumatism, osteoporosis (just making itself evident in tests conducted) and even diabetes. These can be kept checked. A woman had no young children to be totally concerned about and committed to; did not have to earn more and more as one’s needs apart from medical expenses were reduced. One often had only to look after oneself and the help in the kitchen. The main benefit of getting old which adequately balanced its negatives was having emotions under control. No more weeping and wailing over a husband’s neglect of one; no more suffering with one’s child who was going through a very bad patch or was struggling to qualify professionally against odds or was economically depressed. No more hurt feelings or bruised psyche.

So as I was saying, over 60s are not old. It’s in the next decade of one’s age that the signs and symptoms of ageing appear. I don’t need to enumerate them – mostly physical and here facial particularly with a new crease that cannot be passed off as a smile line or a frown that refuses to go away. But the spirit is still willing and the physique copes well. It’s the 80s that appear to be deadly: with restrictions on movement but age speeds at greater velocity!

Though Confucius said the old get balcony seats to watch the world go by, some oldies are relegated to the background. Very many very busy couples living abroad get their parents over, mostly mothers (since in any country widows outnumber widowers), build them a Granny flat and expect them to be happy there, just whiling away their time till late evening when the family returns home to a shared dinner and bed, nary even a short conversation. Our lot in our home country is better by far.

 

Internationally the old are commemorated

The United Nations however, considered the Senior Citizen as worthy of their notice and so they selected a day of the year to pay attention to them. Hence on December 14, 1990, the UN General Assembly voted to establish October 1 as the International Day of Older Persons as recorded in Resolution 45/106. The Day was observed for the first time on October 1, 1991. It is celebrated by raising awareness about issues affecting the elderly, such as senescence (the condition or process of deterioration with age) and elder abuse. It is also a day to appreciate the contributions made by older people to society. This Day is similar to National Grandparents’ Day in the United States and Canada as well as Double Ninth Festival in China and Respect for the Aged Day in Japan. The observance is a focus of ageing organizations and the United Nations Programme on Ageing.

 

Annual themes have so far been:

2011: The growing opportunities and challenges of global ageing

2012: Longevity: shaping the future

2013: The future we want: what older persons are saying

2014: Leaving no one behind: promoting a Society for All

2015: Sustainability and age inclusiveness in the urban environment

2016: Take a stand against ageing

2017:Stepping into the future: tapping the talents, contributions and participation of older persons in society.

Fine thoughts; better resolutions.

 

Reality

Older people are getting more and more self reliant and in many cases it is through personal choice. They feel they had and brought up children through desire and the need to have a family. Thus they consequently considered it their duty to do the best by their children, and once they are educated within personal means but with usually great parental sacrifice, the children are left to lead their adult lives. Many a Sri Lankan son and even daughter feel that pastures are greener beyond our shores, so they migrate for higher studies and for employment. Parents are left behind or opt to stay country bound and at home. Consequently they have to fend for themselves in sickness and in health, through good times and bad. But most parents do not grouse nor consider it unfair. They are happy their children are doing well away from home and they purposely make no demands.

 

That is an upheaval in societal norms and behavior. Five decades and more ago, parents considered their children were bound to care for them in their old age and care through physical proximity. A personal anecdote confirms this speculation. While holidaying at my brother’s upcountry home the talk came round to looking after parents. My mother said that it was the duty of children to care for their parents, no two words about that. Brother and I guffawed and said we did not ask or choose to be born. This visibly upset Mother. She got very annoyed at our impudence, nay cheek, to speak thus to her. Maybe she was justified. She had gone through more than a mother in normal circumstances in Kandy would have been called to do. Widowed very early in life; getting distant according to her stubborn wishes from the paternal side of the extended family and her own brothers and sisters being at variance in their help to her, she had to stand alone to bring up six children after Grandfather died. She worked really hard for whatever could be got from village properties and she scrimped on herself mostly. She was successful.

 

Independent elders of now

The picture is changed completely. Families turned atomic; children had were fewer in number, usually two children or a single child. The world turned global and many retired mothers were employed and benefit by pensions or terminal awards. They knew they had to fend for themselves and planned for it without burdening their children. Homes for Elders have mushroomed for both the disadvantaged and the rich though many more are needed. Insurance and deposit schemes help though three scams in this field offering very high interest devastated many. And the elderly help themselves! Many followed Theodore Roosevelt’s advice, probably unknowingly, or just due to their sensibility.

Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it you’ve got to start young.

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