The Active Ageing Strategy 2016-21 recently published by OFMDFM outlines steps for Northern Ireland to become a more age friendly region.
In the decade between 2003 and 2013 the number of adults in Northern Ireland aged 65 and over increased by 22 per cent. This trend is expected to continue with the proportion of older people projected to increase by 63 per cent to account for almost half a million people by 2033. The recent Active Ageing Strategy 2016-21 aims to tackle challenges faced by the older population including:
• poverty and fuel poverty;
• appropriate housing; better access to transport;
• appropriate health and social care provision;
• social isolation and loneliness; access to education;
• improved access to leisure opportunities;
• better employment opportunities; and
• freedom to live without fear of crime.
The strategy aims to make Northern Ireland an age friendly region in which people, as they get older, are valued and live actively with their rights respected and dignity protected. It is in line with the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing which aims to increase the average healthy lifespan of each EU citizen by two years by 2020.
It highlights additional problems facing older people who are members of minority groups, including the black and minority ethnic groups and those from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
It also covers people in their forties and fifties approaching older age as well as addressing the needs of older people. It aims to combat negative attitudes held towards older members of society and the ageing process. Research suggests that young people with negative attitudes experience poorer health and a shorter life expectancy as they begin to age themselves than those with positive views on ageing.
The strategy is divided into five aims:
As society shifts towards an ageing population, there is a need for older people to be able to live independently. This involves delivering suitable warm housing to remain in their own homes and access to reliable transport (in both rural and urban areas). It is important for older people to have an adequate income and a feeling of community safety by tackling fear of crime. They also require access to user-friendly information.
This aim includes creating social participation and volunteering opportunities to tackle isolation and loneliness as people get older. This includes involving older people in decision-making on policies and the provision of services that will affect them.
This involves providing high quality health and social care services for older people tailored to individual need including appropriate domiciliary care support for those with long-term conditions.
In order for older people to feel self-fulfilment they need to achieve their potential and look at their overall well-being. This involves implementing flexible practices in the workplace, appropriate training and re-skilling and by providing education, training, leisure and cultural opportunities.
The strategy aims to respect the dignity of older people in society as they age and protect them from exploitation, physical and mental abuse. Older people should be treated equally and have their human rights protected. It also covers additional challenges surrounding disability, sexual orientation, race, gender and transgender.
The strategy will enable older people in Northern Ireland to live independently for as long as they are able in suitable and safe homes without experiencing poverty. Older people need to feel involved in their family, community and civic life. It aims to ensure that people are healthier for longer and remain in employment for as long as they wish. The strategy will encourage participation in cultural, educational and physical activity. As the ageing population increases there is a need to effectively safeguard the dignity and human rights of older people.