Pulling back from the edge: an asset based approach to ageing well

Providing better ambulances at the bottom of the cliff instead of fences at the top is a half-baked and wasteful endeavour for policy makers and practitioners alike; it resembles the cartoon world of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, not a blueprint for a complex, integrated and functional society.

Nowhere along the life-course is the futility of such practices more apparent than in the third and fourth ages. This reflection piece, therefore, is concerned with the means by which, with older people in the lead, families, communities and agencies can co-create better fences before the precipice, and ensure that a good life is nurtured well before people reach the ‘‘edge’’. To ensure people may age well and age their own way, an approach that focuses on identifying the wide range of assets that could be used to support an older person is more fruitful than current approaches, exclusively concerned as they are, with the needs and deficiencies of an increasingly ageing population.

I want to grow old at home

This fantastic image comes from the Older & Bolder Coalition – http://www.olderandbolder.ie/content/blog/home-streets

Ageing well, across the life-course, in one’s place, in a way that feels productive, surrounded by family, friends and neighbours, is everyone’s business and is worthy of greater attention than is currently being afforded this simple, powerful ambition.

The central crisis of modern welfare states is our neglect of the task of building hospitable, competent communities where young and old can age well and contribute their talents, skills and knowledge, while receiving the contributions of others in kind. Software – gentle, intelligent, human power – is needed, not the hardware of machinery and ambulances.

In policy terms, we are spending too much time seeking hardware answers to questions at the bottom of the cliff. Two more pertinent software ‘‘top of the cliff’’ questions which should concern us are:

1. What are citizens uniquely competent to do to lead an ageing-well agenda?
2. How can agencies/institutions support such citizen-led action?

There are ten domains within which senior citizens are uniquely competent, and if civic agency is not exercised in these domains then there is no viable, service-based alternative, regardless of how well resourced such services may be. No matter how many Acme Company solutions the coyote employs, he is always undone by the cunning and agility of the road runner. Similarly ageing well and dying with dignity require more than services and fiscal investment. They require the special capabilities of individuals and their communities – their cunning.

The ten domains are health, safety, care for the environment, safe food production and consumption, local economic development, raising young people, building strong communities, civic action towards deeper democracy and a more just society, response to emergencies and co-producing knowledge. A consideration of ageing well, using these domains, is instructive in broadening the narrative about what we need to age well.

Read the full paper ‘Pulling back from the edge: an asset based approach to ageing well’.

Cormac Russell

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