6.1 Harnessing the power of civil society
6.2 Fostering intergenerational relations for the good of all
6.3 Easing the transition from work to retirement by making the most of existing skills
6.4 Developing new transport options
6.5 Providing peer-to-peer support
6.6 Legislating for change
The world is getting older – something which is at once a remarkable scientific achievement, a social challenge and an exciting opportunity. We need to change how we think about later life. Failing to do so runs the risk of high costs; in terms of expenditure on care but also in missed opportunities for business and most importantly, for us all and what we can contribute in our later lives. Achieving this kind of change here will lie not in piecemeal initiatives, but a fundamental shift in policy, practice and attitudes ensuring that everyone ages well, and that later life is a time when everyone can thrive.
That said, we thought we would bring this report to a close on an optimistic note by shining a light on a few global case studies; examples of schemes which are helping to make sure societies are age positive, and that living longer is a blessing rather than a burden.
Harnessing the power of civil society
In Japan, Fureai Kippu, which translates to ’elderly care units’ or, more charmingly, ‘kindness tickets’,225 is a system of alternative currencies to help provide care for those in later life. In short, one unit of currency represents an hour of service. Volunteers can visit an elderly person – to help them with medical appointments or around the home, for instance – and then bank the credit for their own use at a later date, or transfer it so that someone checks in on their own elderly friends and relatives. This scheme has been operating since 1995 and, currently, nearly 400 not-for-profit organisations are participating in issuing and exchanging Fureai Kippu across the country.226
Testimonials provide evidence as to the benefit of this scheme. In Los Angeles, a Fureai Kippu branch comprises around 100 members, all of whom have come to the city to live and work, but with close relatives in Japan. One member, Tanaka-san, takes another, older, member shopping each week, earning between eight to ten credits each month. She then transfers these credits to her ageing mother back in Tokyo who uses these to buy home help. Her mother benefits from the practical help provided by these visits but also the social aspect, explaining that her visitor “is like my daughter whom I can see only once a year when she comes back from Los Angeles”. The arrangement also provides meaning and comfort to Tanaka-san, who not only feels good about contributing in her community, but reassured that her mother is being looked after and has been able to build a personal connection with her helper – something which she thinks would be hard to come by in professional, paid-for care services.227
There is something similar in the UK. The GoodGym228 started in 2009 when film-maker and entrepreneur Ivo Gormley decided to use his desire to get fit to reach out to older, more isolated people in his local community of Hackney. He began by delivering a newspaper to a man named Terry and the scheme developed from there. Essentially, the GoodGym is a running club with a difference. Rather than just running around your local park or on a treadmill, the GoodGym pairs runners with people in need of help – or just a little company. Runners either undertake mission runs (running to helping older people with tasks they can no longer do), coach runs (runs to visit older people who are isolated, and so-called because the older people become ‘coaches’, in that they motivate the runners to lace up their trainers) and group runs (which help community organisations with physical tasks). The scheme has now expanded to 46 areas across the UK – with many more on the way. While the scheme is not without its issues – namely that it relies on people in later life self-identifying that they need help and support – it can still make a difference to those who use its services. As Joan, aged 87, explained: “With ageing you lose a lot of friends. It’s really sad, and it does affect your quality of life. Loneliness is difficult to cope with.”229
Fostering intergenerational relations for the good of all
Porto is a city with both a very old and very young population. Each year, around 70,000 students come to the city to learn at its university and other higher education institutions. At the same time, Porto has one of the oldest populations in Portugal; three in ten are aged over 60.230 The Aconchego Programme,231 which started in 2004, seeks to match students in need of a place to live with older people at risk of loneliness and social isolation but with a spare room. Such has been the success of Aconchego that it has expanded to Lisbon and Coimbra, and a similar scheme, Ensemble2Generations,232 is now running in Paris.
Other housing schemes across Europe have been established to foster intergenerational relationships. Sometimes known as ‘lifetime neighbourhoods’, senior co-housing is a system of mixed-age residential developments designed to allow the young and old to live together and support each other. First developed in Denmark in the 1960s, the scheme now has numerous spin-offs and has been incredibly successful in the Netherlands.
There, the city of Amersfoort, for instance, lists on its website ten local older people’s cohousing communities. One such example of these comprises 43 men and women (whose ages range from 55 to 83 years), living in a total of 36 households. Two thirds were social renters, with the remainder owner occupiers, all living in 70m to 80m square flats (with moveable internal walls) in two buildings facing each other and joined by both a bridge and a lift tower. There is much green space available for residents to enjoy, including both a flower and vegetable garden. There is also a common room where the community can come together to both socialise and shape their collective life.233
Easing the transition from work to retirement by making the most of existing skills
Men’s Sheds began in 2006 in Australia. The idea was that once men had a safe space – a shed, which they build or renovate – they would be able to talk about their feelings and support each other in an informal way. This would help those at risk of loneliness or social isolation, including the recently retired. Such was the success of the scheme that retirement villages started to provide such sheds, enabling men to meet informally, chat, work on their own projects or help others with theirs, enabling them to pass on their skills and experience for the benefit of other residents.234 After an initial pilot by Age UK, the scheme has now successfully transferred to Britain. The Men’s Sheds Association estimates that there are 466 sheds currently open and 132 under development which, in total, is benefiting nearly 12,000 men. As one ‘shedder’ explained: “it improved my mental state and gave me hope”.235
Similarly, the University of the Third Age (U3A) has been a hugely successful initiative. It aims to make lifelong learning a reality for people in their third age – not defined by a particular time in life, but by when employment has ceased. On this basis, it attracts predominantly those who have retired. Members form groups, according to their skills and interests, and teach others about what they know. No qualifications are gained; it is designed purely for the joy of learning. From its beginnings in 1981, the movement grew quickly and now comprises over 1,000 U3As and 400,000 members.236
Developing new transport options
In the not-too-distant future, driverless cars will mean that, aside from cost barriers, the issue of the safe transportation of people in later life may be null and void. Until then, however, we need to think about replicating smart solutions like ITNAmerica. This scheme was borne out of tragic circumstances; more than 20 years ago, Katherine Freund’s three-year-old son, Ryan, was knocked down outside their house by an 84-year-old-driver. The driver had dementia. While Ryan eventually recovered from his severe injuries, the incident got Katherine thinking about how to prevent other similar accidents. Working from her home in Portland, Maine (coincidentally one of the US’ most aged states) Freund began to examine the problem – that most people in later life don’t have an alternative to private cars; that taxis are expensive; that public transport is limited; that the distances some people need to cover are vast; that there are few rules which prevent someone in later life from driving; that it often comes down to giving up your keys and therefore giving up your freedom. As a result, older drivers have the highest accident rate of any group, apart from teenagers.
Her solution to these problems was ITNAmerica, an innovative not-for-profit organisation that brings together volunteers, vehicles and computer software to provide around 50,000 subsidised car rides a year to elderly people across the US. The organisation is, in effect, a cheap, community-run taxi service staffed by a mix of paid and volunteer drivers. Launched in Portland in 1995, it charges an annual $40 individual membership fee and an average of $9 a trip – far less than a regular taxi ride. Partially supported by charitable grants, the service has now expanded to more than 20 cities across America. Volunteer drivers (most of whom are over 60 themselves) build up credits which they can then cash in when they choose to stop driving. Alternatively, they could exchange them for a ride for someone else – like an ageing relative.
Providing peer-to-peer support
It’s not for nothing that our regular Veracity Index finds that the ordinary person on the street is trusted more than a whole host of other professions including civil servants, lawyers, bankers, journalists, business leaders – gosh, even pollsters.237 People like to take advice from people like themselves; it is non-threatening, and trusted.
This is the principal on which the AgeWell initiative in Cape Town, South Africa, has been built. This pilot project seeks to provide community-based peer-to-peer support for those in later life. It recognises that “older people can be an ageing community’s greatest resource, drawing on their own experiences to identify and respond to issues faced by other older people”. To achieve this, 28 older community members in Khayelitsha, one of South Africa’s largest, and poorest, townships, were trained as peer supporters. Working in pairs, they made home visits to 211 older people who live in their community. These visits provided companionship, generated a sense of community and also identified health and social needs. In some cases, referrals were made onto more formal services via a smartphone. There were numerous benefits reported on both sides. The peer supporters spoke of feeling empowered and financially independent (the role entailed a small salary), while those who were visited reported health benefits, as well as improved self-esteem, lower levels of social isolation and increased satisfaction with formal service provision.
Legislating for change
Sometimes, what’s needed is a legislative nudge to make progress. In Japan, every third Monday in September the country celebrates ‘Respect the Aged’ day, or Keiro-no-Hi. This is a national paid holiday– so already more serious than the US equivalent of Grandparents’ Day – and, traditionally, meals are shared with older relatives and presents bought for them. Volunteers organise free bento lunch deliveries, or distribute special hampers that contain basic necessities. Schools organise performances especially for the elderly and perform them at retirement or nursing homes. Many communities have keirokai ceremonies and invite the seniors of the community to attend. Larger cities host competitions or fitness displays featuring those in later life, designed to acknowledge senior members of the community who continue to live healthy, active lives. Television stations take the opportunity to air special programmes related to ageing and the elderly community, often featuring the voices of older people themselves telling their stories and their secrets for a long and happy life.238
More drastically, in China, elderly parents can now sue their adult children for both financial and emotional support; more than 1,000 parents have sued their children because they do not visit them regularly enough. China isn’t the only country with such laws. Filial piety is the law in India, France and the Ukraine, while in Singapore, adult children who do not give their parents an allowance can face up to six months in jail!
As these handful of examples show, governments and civil society around the world are waking up to the issues we need to rethink. But all of us – including the media and manufacturers – need to do more. Consciously checking one’s own stereotypical thinking about old age can also be a small step, but small steps can add up to a bigger change. Crucial though, is that we stop framing ageing as just a challenge. It is complex, undoubtedly, but also one of the greatest opportunities: we all have the opportunity to become Perennials.