Network lead Betsy Werley reports on the October 10 UN session: Since 1990, the United Nations’ International Day of Older Persons has turned the spotlight on older adults. For most of those years, the program focused on the need to serve and defend that population, often the poorest and most disadvantaged citizens, as well as one of the most vulnerable to abuse. More recently, Marc Freedman and other speakers began to highlight older adults’ value in social impact work, moving the discussion from “silver tsunami” to “experience dividend.”

This year’s session showed the increasing visibility of older adults on the UN agenda, with a first-ever appearance by UN General Assembly President Tijjane Muhammad-Bande. It also moved the balance further toward the opportunity side. Speakers highlighted older people as contributors, the value of empowering us to engage in productive activity and the need to eliminate ageism as a barrier to full participation. 

President Muhammad-Bande commented, “We must view older people as contributors as well as receivers of service. What an elder can see sitting down, a child cannot see even if he climbs a tree.”

Keynote speaker Andrew Scott, co-author of The One Hundred Year Life, challenged the audience to “celebrate longevity” and the growing number of people who are “younger for longer.” 

Entrepreneurship guru Elizabeth Isele encouraged the audience to view age in terms of future potential rather than years lived, noting that “empowering experience boosts prosperity for all ages.” 

World Health Organization (WHO) Decade of Healthy Ageing lead Alana Officer outlined plans for the 2020 to 2030 program, which include changing perceptions of aging and older people, and expanding age-friendly environments. 

Advocates are working toward a UN Convention on the Rights of Older Persons to empower older adults, protect their rights and brings older adults into the mainstream. Such a convention would give older people equal status with other protected groups: women, children, racial discrimination, people with disabilities and migrants.  Resources from the session:

  • World Population Ageing 2019 Highlights report
  • Primary UN website for work related to aging
  • WHO Decade of Health Ageing website

Published: October 22, 2019