WRVS’ recent report, Ageing Across Europe, produced by Demos, paints a stark picture of growing old in this country. Our older people are proven to be the loneliest, poorest and the most worried that they are discriminated against because of their age, of the countries examined.
But is it all doom and gloom? The whole point of looking at the countries that we did: Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as the UK, was that these are countries that are in many ways – particularly in terms of wealth – similar to us. So we should be able to learn from the good things that Sweden and the Netherlands are doing (who came first and second on the experience of ageing, compared to our third) and replicate them in this country.
In Sweden, for example, there is a much greater focus on spending money on preventing health problems which get significantly worse later in life, by tackling the issues that cause them. So obesity, which we know can lead to diabetes in later life, is tackled earlier through public health programmes, as is smoking and drinking.
We do a lot of talking about “prevention” in this country, but given that this study shows that in the UK we have the highest prevalence of what is euphemistically called “life limiting illness” amongst older people, surely this is an indication that the public health messages to do with healthy eating and less drinking are not getting through? Or, at least, not as effectively as in those other countries. As David McCullough, WRVS chief executive, commented on the publication of the report – surely it should be a wake-up call for all of us?
So plenty of food for thought for local and central government, but what about for us as individuals? Well one interesting finding from the report, particularly from WRVS’ point of view, is that in Sweden and the Netherlands, there are much higher rates of volunteering. In Sweden - 55% of people volunteer, it’s 50% in the Netherlands , 45% of Germans volunteer and we lag behind at 26%. Separate WRVS research found that older people that volunteer actually improve their sense of wellbeing simply through helping others. People also get a sense of personal satisfaction from seeing their voluntary work is appreciated. Take note voluntary organisations – a pat on the back helps!
It’s common sense really that by giving back to your community, you are not only improving your own sense of worth, but you are also meeting people and staying active and so helping prevent the issues we so often, sadly, see amongst older people whereby they are housebound seeing few people, if any, from day to day. So, by volunteering, you help others but also help yourself. If encouraging more volunteering can help tackle the parlous state of ageing in this country, then that should be the positive that we can take from this shocking report.
Posted by Sarah Farndale, WRVS at 00:00
Wednesday, 06 June 2012.