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Message from Marie Smith, AARP President, on the Occasion of the UN International Day of Older Persons 2004

We are pleased to join the United Nations in commemorating the fourteenth annual International Day of Older Persons. This is an occasion to celebrate a global achievement: longer life and increased life expectancies. It’s also an opportunity to change the way we perceive aging in society.

In the United States and abroad, AARP works to create positive social change to improve the quality of life for people 50 and over through advocacy, programs and services, and information dissemination. We recognize aging as a truly worldwide phenomenon that requires global response and cooperation to address its unique challenges.

Today, life expectancy throughout the world has increased to 66 years, adding 20 years to our lifespan in the short period since 1950. We like to refer to this as a “longevity bonus.” Clearly this demographic shift is astounding and a cause for celebration.

Not only are we living longer but we are living healthier. Advancing Health and Well-being for Older Persons is the theme for the 2004 International Day of Older Persons. In most parts of the world, we see that countries have improved health care, diet, and standards of living that have given older citizens a better quality of life.

Yet these accomplishments in health and longer life spans are occurring while health systems worldwide face great pressures because of increasing health expenditures. There is a critical need to contain health care costs. As we continue to find solutions to challenges, we need to make health care sustainable for the future by promoting more effective and efficient care systems and encouraging proactive steps towards better health. These would include staying physically active, eating a healthier diet, and getting regular health screenings to prevent or delay disease and disability.

We recognize there are certainly differences in the older populations among nations. But the reality is that we also have much in common. We have much to gain from older persons in our societies. They are mentors, the backbone of volunteer power, and they transmit their hard-earned wisdom and cultural history to other generations. Older persons also play an important role as caregivers to their loved one. Often this role is underappreciated and often goes unrecognized. In many countries in the African region, where the HIV/AIDS epidemic has ravaged the population, older persons often serve as the primary caregivers and provide financial support for the younger generations of the family.

Older populations are a physical and intellectual resource making major contributions to economies and societies around the world. As people continue to live longer and healthier, we must ensure that there are opportunities for them to continue contributing to society. For example, those who want to or need to work into later years should not be prevented from doing so. Utilizing the skills and experiences of older workers not only can ease pressure on public pension and other systems, but can give older persons a sense of meaning and purpose, as well as the opportunity to remain an active and contributing member of society.

Issues related to global aging have only recently emerged as a priority. We applaud the UN Second World Assembly on Ageing and other international conferences and organizations that have brought this debate to the forefront. We must continue this dialogue to challenge assumptions about the role of older people in society; to exchange ideas, best practices, and research; and to encourage policy-makers to respond to changing demographics. In order to work towards a society for all ages, we need to encourage further international consultation among a broad range of stakeholders including government, business, labor, media, and environmental, educational, health care, and civic associations.

AARP affirms its commitment to promoting older persons’ independence, participation and engagement in society and to facilitating an international dialogue on issues related to aging. We continue to celebrate longer life as an achievement and recognize the many opportunities it offers. We strongly believe that the challenges of global aging we face can be met fairly and equitably with international cooperation and dialogue.

For More Information Contact:
Jessica Frank
AARP Office of International Affairs
780 Third Avenue, 30th Floor
New York, NY 10017
Tel: +1 212 407 3710
Fax: +1 212 759 2277

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