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International Older Persons Day considering impact COVID-19

United Nations 'International Day of Older Persons was on October 1, highlighting the important contributions that older people make to society and raising awareness of the issues and challenges around ageing at present.

International Day of Older Persons highlights the important contributions that older people make to society (Source: iStock)
International Day of Older Persons highlights the important contributions that older people make to society (Source: iStock)

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the International Day of Older Persons and with the global pandemic causing upheaval across the world, and in particular among the ageing population, the theme this year is 'Pandemics: Do They Change How We Address Age and Ageing?'.

Victorian aged care provider Benetas is using International Day of Older Persons to shine a light on social connection, with Benetas CEO Sandra Hills OAM calling for more awareness in the community to tackle issues of social isolation and connection among older people across Australia.

Ms Hills says that older Australians are more likely to face social isolation and experiences of loneliness and the need to focus on efforts to promote social connection among our elderly is more important than ever.

“The restrictions in Victoria these past months have given us all a very small taste of what it is like to have our mobility restricted, and our usual interactions with family and friends brought back to the bare bones. 

“The fact is, many older people in our community often face this heightened social-isolation day in day out; something that may be compounded by the passing of a spouse, a desire not to ‘burden’ family members, increasing issues of mobility, changes to cognitive function, or often security and safety concerns," Ms Hills adds. 

“Social connection throughout a person’s ageing journey is vital for their wellbeing, quality of life, and in maintaining strong mental health.”

Ms Hills highlights the important role that aged care services provide in nurturing ongoing social and community connection. 

“The aged care services that we deliver, whether they be residential homes for people with high care needs or community supports for people living at home, are designed to support older Australians to safely connect with the community and nurture meaningful relationships.  

“We do need to see an ongoing investment from our local governments and community groups towards building age friendly cities, a trend I’m encouraged to see evolve each and every year," Ms Hills says.

“But we’re also needing our Government to continue funding vital residential and in-home services that tackle loneliness among some of our most vulnerable community members.” 

Meanwhile the Law Council of Australia is calling on the Federal Government to support a dedicated 'Convention on the Rights of Older Persons'.

According to Law Council President, Ms Pauline Wright, such a convention could play an important role in improving the lives of older people globally, as well as drive Australia’s own domestic legal and policy frameworks.

“While other groups, such as women, children, and people with disability have been recognised as requiring specific attention, there is nothing that caters for the human rights of older persons as a distinct group,” Ms Wright says.

“Their specific needs, experiences, and human rights should be reflected and articulated in a focused international treaty.”

Ms Wrights highlights that the development of a convention on the rights of older persons is particularly timely in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, which "has severely impacted many older persons globally, with international responses often falling short".

“We need to protect the human rights of older people – both in emergency settings, such as pandemics, and in everyday settings,” Ms Wright adds.

The Law Council is calling for a stronger legal framework at the international level but Ms Wright says these also need to be translated for a "domestic setting".

“The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has heard numerous accounts of serious human rights violations. That is one of the many reasons why the Law Council remains committed to the development of a federal human rights act, which has the potential to achieve positive outcomes for the protection of the rights of older persons amongst many other Australians,” Ms Wright says.

The UN anniversary of International Day of Older Persons also promotes the World Health Organisation's 'Decade of Healthy Ageing' which kicked off in August 2020 and aims to bring together governments, civil society, international agencies, professionals, academia, the media, and the private sector for ten years of collaborative action to improve the lives of older people, their families, and the communities in which they live. 

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