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Author: Age NI
Published on 09 May 2013 02:30 PM

It has been interesting, yet also troubling to be part of the debate surrounding potential care home closures over the last two weeks. Not only to hear the variety of comments made about social care reform, but also to understand the way older people continue to be viewed in our society.

One of the most overused words throughout the debate has been ‘elderly’.  It has been used consistently by media and politicians, as well as many members of the general public.  This is a word that older people tell Age NI they do not like.  We have been asking people to replace it in their vocabulary with ‘older people’ or ‘people in later life’ for many years.  ‘Elderly’ is a word that evokes vulnerability and frailty, and reinforces a negative stereotyping of older people that has been all too prevalent in recent days.

Age NI believes in social care reform that supports dignity, independence and choice.  We also believe in a society where those same values are held dear and older people are seen as active participants and individuals.  I would ask where dignity, independence and choice have been hiding in many of the debates that we have seen and heard in the last few days.

Just because a person requires the support of a care home does not mean that these values no longer apply to their lives.  Ageist stereotypes are discriminatory and damaging to the fabric of our society.  Crossing the threshold of a residential home does not reduce or remove your ability to participate and engage in society.  Older people still have a voice and they have a right to be heard.  They also have a right to be involved in decisions about their future.  Older people are capable of making choices and making changes.  Society must ensure that every individual has the opportunity to do so.

What does it say about the society we live in that it takes distress and anxiety to be strewn across our television screens and newspapers for us to think about the challenges many people face in later life?  Does it really take ‘the elderly’ to be threatened for society to leap in to any kind of action?  Or as I believe, should older people be at the forefront of society’s considerations, plans and actions at all times?

Our society is ageing rapidly.  In 20 years, 1 person in 25 will be over 85 in Northern Ireland.  When I reach later life, I hope that I will be heard without needing to shout; that I will be seen without needing to perform; and that my words will inspire reaction, not silence.  Most of all, I want to be appreciated as older, not dismissed as elderly.

For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575