Once upon a time, not terribly long ago, describing a world where you could order groceries, purchase clothes and even find a life partner through a computer would seem the work of sci-fi. Instead, it is a reality and not one that everyone has readily embraced.
It was reported that an 89 year old British woman of reasonable health had chosen to end her life at Dignitas in Switzerland. Her reasoning? She had quite simply had enough of modern life, of technology, of the way the world had changed beyond her recognition. Named only as Anne, she said ‘I find myself swimming against the current, and you can’t do that. If you can’t join them, get off.’
The Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing was launched last year by NPC in partnership with ILC-UK to put ageing on the agenda of the voluntary sector. We are living longer than ever, the number of people aged 85 is expected to more than double by 2035 and around one third of babies born in 2012 in the UK are expected to live long enough to celebrate their 100th birthday (that’s a lot of telegrams). But to see our ageing population as a burden is completely out of step with the new dynamics of ageing; this older, mostly healthly population brings tremendous opportunities, as our paper Age of Opportunity shows.
But in the context of current attitudes towards the elderly, is Anne’s choice understandable? Are we morphing into robots and failing to notice when some of our fellow humans struggle with new parts? If we do notice, do we care enough to do anything to help? In many communities around the globe, the elderly are revered; they are an encyclopaedia, no longer the fountain of youth but of knowledge. Their place is at the epicentre of the family and they remain thoroughly integrated well into their last days. Yet in the UK, more than 450,000 people over 65 spent last Christmas alone.
We all juggle so much: children, deadlines, health; it’s easy to forget someone. Some ‘silver surfers’ are keen to join the digital age—my Mum has upgraded her phone and Kindle more times than all of her children, while my Father turns on his mobile once a year because it is ‘for me to contact people if I wish, not for people to contact me’. Both of them intensely dislike Facebook, viewing it as a source of trouble, yet they were delighted with a piece of software that transformed their vintage vinyl collection into mp3 files.
A young social entrepreneur set up Nana’s in fashionable Clapton, run entirely by volunteer grandmothers. A comfort food and craft café, people of all ages gobble heart-warming grub and join classes in knitting and sewing under the watchful eye of over 60s putting a lifetime of cooking and nurturing skills to good use. Reading how Anne felt, I can’t help but think there should be one in every town.