Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Is anyone really listening to our senior citizens?

Two-thirds of older people in Northern Ireland believe their opinions count for nothing within the rest of society, new research revealed today.

The depressing assessment held by the vast majority of over-60s highlights the need for an independent commissioner to champion their concerns, according to the Changing Ageing Partnership (Cap).

While the Stormont administration has outlined plans to appoint a full-time commissioner, the lengthy legislative process means it could be another two years before one begins work.

Dame Joan Harbison is fulfilling the role of Older People's |Advocate on a part-time basis in the interim.

Cap is supported by Age Concern, Help the Aged NI, Queen's University Belfast and the Workers' Educational Association.

Its survey, which was commissioned to mark the start of Age Awareness Week, found that almost 90% of the overall population believes more needs to be done to challenge negative perceptions of the older generation.

One in three people said the single most important action to achieve that would be installing a commissioner.

Anne O'Reilly, from Cap, said: “Society as a whole needs to change its misguided and negative perceptions of older people.

“This can only be achieved by seeking out older people's views, visions and opinions, and allowing them to influence decisions about everything that affects their lives — from policy-making, education and arts to how they are portrayed in the media.

“This will ensure that older people are fully active and involved members of our society who are represented and portrayed in a more real and positive light.”

There are more than 530,000 people over the age of 50 living in Northern Ireland — almost a third of the population.

“It's good news that older people are living longer, but research carried out for Age Awareness Week shows that 68% of older people over the age of 60 agree that our society does not take their views and opinions into consideration,” added Ms O'Reilly.

“This is a worrying statistic. How can policies, procedures and services reflect the needs of older people in society and how can negative perceptions change if older people's views and opinions are not taken into consideration?”

Age Awareness Week will see a wide range of events taking place across Northern Ireland to celebrate the diversity of older people and the positive contribution they make to our society.

The Belfast Telegraph is a media partner of the initiative.

“Age Awareness Week is the perfect opportunity for everybody in our society to get involved and become aware of age issues,” Ms O’Reilly added.

“It is important that we stand together to create a society which values, respects and takes the views and opinions of the most knowledgeable people in our society into consideration to ensure a more equal, informed and richer society now and in the future.”

Age Awareness Week

Northern Ireland’s Age Awareness Week runs from today until October 3 with a host of events scheduled to explore issues on ageing in venues across Northern Ireland.

Promoted by Changing Ageing Partnership, with the Belfast Telegraph as a supporter, this year’s theme is ‘representation’.

All events celebrate the diversity of older people’s lives and highlight the positive contribution they make to society.

The events calendar includes art exhibitions, films, discussions and conferences across Belfast, poetry and storytelling in Portadown, an inter-generational event in Strabane, information events in Ballymoney, Newry and Limavady and dance and drama in Lisburn, Londonderry, Omagh, Armagh and Coleraine.

The launch of the week will be marked this evening with a drive-in movie at the King’s Hall complex in Belfast.

Harold And Maude, the story of 19-year-old Harold (Bud Cort) falling in love with 79-year-old Maud (Ruth Gordon), will be screened at 8pm.

For movie ticket information, telephone 02890 325913. For full details on the week’s programme of events, log on to www.ageawarenessweek.com

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