We live in a society of elderly people: there are many elderly citizens but very few new born, since young couples are having fewer children than before. Nowadays, being "old" is very different to what it used to be. The seventy-year-olds, who were once considered old, are no longer perceived in the same way. Plus, thanks to the general wellbeing and better life conditions, they are living full and energetic lives, often well integrated into every day and family life and at work. So much so that their experience has become a fundamental support for the development of society.
Nowadays, an older person seems much younger, more dynamic and more active.
Old age has become the longest life phase: it is a "new generation".
People aged between 65 and 80 are in better health than in the past, plus their mental health is constantly improving, as their behaviour is now similar to those aged 50-55 in previous years.
What we used to call the "third age” can now be divided into two phases based on two different situations: The first one refers to elderly citizens who are still energetic and youthful. The other refers to those who are approaching the "forth age", because their health is starting to deteriorate, their ability to move is reduced and they are no longer able to live independently.
A large amount of those who reach retirement age are in good physical health, are financially secure and have varied pastimes which are usually activities that up until now had just been a dream. The retirement period is becoming a time in which they can do completely as they please and manage in the best way possible.
The socioeconomic analyses show us just how useful older people can be for society and the role that should be given to them.
The elderly are one of the most important issues in our society, however, whilst productivity, youth and the constant change of trends and styles are taken into consideration, the elderly, who do not often adapt as quickly, are not.
Scientific and economic progress has resulted in an increase of life expectancy, but we need to give the elderly a precise contribution so that they can make the most of those "extra years".
We need a new culture for older people which considers the higher life expectancy as a phenomenon that cannot be compared with any other experience lived by man throughout history. The elderly need to become active leaders of the future which will be built for themselves and future generations. They should not be left aside because that would be unfair and intolerable.
There are older people that take pride in their age. On the one hand, they calmly accept their limits and on the other, they are convinced of the value of their age. They have a lot of human, spiritual, cultural energy, ability and skills to give to all.
The way in which we think of the elderly is changing. In many cases, the way we look at them, the interest they generate, has altered. It is thought that, without them, social life would lose a lot of its humanity and would become poorer, losing its memories and values from the past.
The new image of an old person still needs to reach general awareness and social participation which, in part, the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations 2012 did not fully accomplish.
We need to work together and achieve a union between the generation which has concluded its work cycle and that of the active young.
The elderly especially dedicate their efforts to volunteer work: a huge sector, which especially devotes itself to the social field, with free, selfless and supporting activities which benefit the community.
Older people are an authentic and important resource of "renewable energy", they are a resource for the economy and society. Being a "resource" means that they themselves are aware, but, above all, it means feeling recognised and valued by society.
They can collaborate in communities by helping the most vulnerable people such as children or even elderly citizens who are in extreme situations; they can make an important contribution in the use of common goods, from culture to the environment. They can participate in a useful way in museums, libraries and parks and they can actively take part teaching our young ones knowledge about traditions and skills linked to the past.
The elderly also need to be able to make themselves heard, and above all, their demands need to be heard in society and in the institutions, which should take them on board and satisfy them when possible, taking into account the serious economic situation which is affecting the European Union.
We need to create some social actions and programmes in favour of our older generation. The objective of these is to promote the support of family responsibilities, the development of social intergenerational ties, the restoration of cultural traditions linked with experience and memories and finally the restoration of unused or underused urban areas for the community to come together.