The first day of October marks the United Nations International Day of Older Persons (IDOP), and we join with people around the world to celebrate the contribution older people have made to their respective societies, and add our voices to the call for greater respect and care to be shown to people as they age.

The theme of this year’s IDOP is “Digital equity for all ages”, focusing on the rapid expansion in technology and the benefits it brings in all walks of life, but recognising that across the world women and older people experience inequity in terms of access to this technology when compared with other groups. In addition the day serves to highlight the increased risks that technology can bring, in the form of scams or loss of funds and personal data, and has reignited calls from the United Nations to work toward an international, legally-binding instrument which articulates and protects the rights of older people.

At the very beginning of lockdown in 2020, many people in our congregation were not very active online and some were wary of attempts to encourage them to join a webinar or online meeting or even open emails. In the face of separation from children, grandchildren, siblings and friends, this reluctance and even resistance has crumbled like sand. Human relationships are so important, so highly valued, so essential to our lives that people will change to new behaviours they once counted as unthinkable. However, we found that it did not come easily to everyone; thanks to the dedication and patient support of a particular few members of the congregation, everyone who wanted to come online together for worship was helped until they could. Everyone who had trouble with their emails was supported until they could open the bulletin and church newsletter. 

We are all looking forward to an easing of restrictions and prospect of meeting each other face to face before too long. Before we abandon our laptops and phones, though, we should consider how we can continue to use this technology and get the best of both worlds, and, more importantly, how we can ensure that more people have positive access to communication devices that can help prevent loneliness and isolation.

Older Persons Sunday

The Uniting Church has designated 3rd October this year as Older Persons Sunday, in recognition of the celebration of the UN International Day of Older People. The Engadine congregation will be using the Prayers for the People which have been written especially for this service. The Uniting Friends of the Ageing is an initiative of UnitingCare National, and has as its focus a change in the mindset about the value of older people in our society, and a reflection of this in an improved aged care system which respects and protects human rights and enhances the life experiences of their clients.

Whilst congregations across Australia will be joining to largely celebrate the lives of older people and the contributions they continue to make to our communities, we will also reflect on ageism, the term that has now come to stand for the negative attitudes about older people which in turn feeds discrimination and, in some cases, abuse. The EveryAGE Countscampaign has designated 1 October as the first “Ageism Awareness Day”, and is urging people to become more aware of what ageism is and how it impacts on older people, using the phrase “Know it. Name it”. 

We can make an active difference and confront ageism locally simply by ensuring that older people who are close to us, either through family or as part of a congregation or other groups and communities, remain included in all activities and continue to participate in decision making and take roles of leadership. Our children of all ages as well as us have so much to learn from people who have time to share their wisdom, their experience and their memories, and who provide a link to people and place and tradition.

If we have a problem with ageism and with aged care, then this emanates from our own community attitudes, and it is in our power to influence and change these. This year, as wemark International Older Persons Day and Older Persons Sunday, let’s commit to doing our bit to make the world a better place for older people, today and every day.