Older people are more willing to help

OLDER people are a diverse demographic, who have proven to be of great help during disasters and emergency situations rather than needing help according to experts at the International Federation of Ageing 13th annual Global Conference held in Brisbane June 21-23.

While a panel of global experts talking about catastrophes and the older person presented statistics showing extremely high mortality rate next to other age groups during natural disasters, they also urged policy makers to recognise the ageing population's diversity.

Godfrey Paul, senior regional manager of HelpAid international, wasted no time in giving us a reality check. He said the 21st century as we thought it would happen had not arrived.

He said we had envisaged a contemporary world a shrunk in time and space, a tightly knit global village. Instead we have a world of war and hate. At the same time we are faced with two mega trends simultaneously converging on us - Ageing and Climate Change.

Along with fellow panellists discussing the older person and natural catastrophes, he called for the stereotypical definition of the older person as the passive recipient, to be replaced with a recognition of the demographic's diversity.

Dr Lisa Brown, of California, was on the same page, but went further and suggested that older people should be considered for volunteer roles during emergencies. She said that older people could be seen as a resource for assisting, not necessarily in need of assistance.

"Age in and of itself does not make a person vulnerable. We do not place all teenagers and infants in the same category, but if a person has grey hair, we assume they are vulnerable and need services.

"We need a new narrative."

She said disaster planning could be an opportunity for community development, that it was a time to talk about needs, support and peer education.

Professor Junko Otani, of Osaka University, noted that Japan had the largest ageing population in the world. She called Japan a "super ageing society".

She emphasised that data revealed that during natural disaster it was peer groups and neighbours who helped the older person rather family members, thus realising the importance of social engagement in disaster planning.