‘Time to end the stereotypes of older people’

Margaret Mulligan, the chairperson of Roscommon Older People’s Council, has called on society to change its image towards older people, describing the current attitude as “ageist”.

  Ms. Mulligan delivered a hard-hitting address at the recent launch of Roscommon’s Age-Friendly Strategy 2016-2020 at the Abbey Hotel, Roscommon town, which was attended by a very large crowd.

  The strategy was officially launched by former GAA commentator Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, whose humorous address greatly entertained the attendance.

  On a more serious note, however, Ms. Mulligan hit out at what she called society’s tendency to portray older people “as objects or commodities” who were “purely numerical problems”.

  “As one of the older people, I do meet that,” she said. “We are people who, for the most part, have worked and contributed all our lives.

  “We have contributed to our pensions, free travel, health care, education and now tend to be regarded as just numbers – a percentage of society who are troublesome because we continue to survive.

  “The concern is money-driven – how will society pay for the ongoing costs of those who continue to survive past their sell-by date?”

  She said that there was constant discussion about how much money the elderly cost the health system.

  Ms. Mulligan added: “The reality is that the vast majority of older people are no more of a demand on health services or our society than the rest of the population, just a different demand.”

  She said that there needed to be a change in our societal image of older people – a change, she said, needed to “come from the top”.

  “That is to say that a genuine change in attitude is required with regard to the ageing process,” she said. “This is linked to culture, but also to respect and better integration of all ages.

  “It is no harm to reflect that we are human beings with an absolute entitlement to live as long as we like, without being stereotyped as burdens on society. It is time to end the stereotypes.”

  She said that at present older people were being depicted as “stooped halfway to the ground and leaning on walking sticks”.

  She said that there was a “constant whinge from the media, emphasising that a 90 or 100-year-old person was left on a trolley for 24 or 48 hours”.

  Ms. Mulligan added: “Nobody should have to spend a prolonged time on a trolley and, furthermore, they should be prioritised according to medical need, not age. The present attitude is ageist and emotive.”

  She said that at present almost 10,000 people in Co. Roscommon were over the age of 65, and that it was time to embrace that generation.

  “Over the next 20 years, older people will be healthier, more active, more independent and better educated and skilled than any generation of over-65s before them,” Ms. Mulligan said.

  “It is vital that we celebrate and maximise their/our contributions to society. The message should be positive, rather than seeing ageing as a negative process.”

  The Cathaoirleach of Roscommon County Council, Cllr. Paddy Kilduff, and its Chief Executive, Eugene Cummins, also addressed the crowd, as did Hugh O’Connor, the Chief Executive of Age Friendly Ireland.