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Post-pandemic challenges for all ages in an ageing society

Stephen Burke (United for All Ages Wivenhoe United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland)

Quality in Ageing and Older Adults

ISSN: 1471-7794

Article publication date: 24 October 2021

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to highlight lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic for planning for the future of our ageing society. It looks at trends, changes in our society and implications for people of all ages. It focusses on the importance of planning and whether COVID-19 will lead to long-term changes.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper draws on the author’s experiences running an intergenerational organisation during the pandemic and other work associated with ageing well.

Findings

This paper highlights some of the risks and unknowns we face going forwards and points to lessons and opportunities for “building back better”.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is based on a review of published articles and viewpoints.

Practical implications

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged people of all ages in different ways, some of which have tested intergenerational solidarity. At the same time, the pandemic has raised issues which we must all address going forward: planning for future pandemics, planning for an ageing society and ensuring that future planning works for all generations. This paper explores all these themes in the light of lessons from COVID-19. Firstly, despite much risk assessment and scenario planning, we were not well placed in the UK or across the world to respond to the multiple challenges of COVID-19. Have we learned the lessons to be able to deal better with the inevitable pandemics that will follow in the future? It is also well documented that the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in our society. What will the long-term impact be for longevity and will less healthy lives reverse the trend of increasing life expectancy? Secondly, what are the lessons for our ageing society? As life expectancy rises, what will the quality of life be like in those added years? Many of today’s babies can expect to have a 100-year life. What does that mean for the way we lead our lives and can we ensure that everyone can age well? Third, these are not just issues for older people, but for people of all ages and generations. The Covid-19 experience has been different for younger and older people – whether it has been health or job security, income, taxation or housing. Questions of intergenerational fairness have again raised their heads, alongside the longer term impact for future generations.

Social implications

Firstly, despite much risk assessment and scenario planning, we were not well placed in the UK or across the world to respond to the multiple challenges of COVID-19. Have we learned the lessons to be able to deal better with the inevitable pandemics that will follow in the future? It is also well documented that the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in our society. What will the long-term impact be for longevity and will less healthy lives reverse the trend of increasing life expectancy? Secondly, what are the lessons for our ageing society? As life expectancy rises, what will the quality of life be like in those added years? Many of today’s babies can expect to have a 100-year life. What does that mean for the way we lead our lives and can we ensure that everyone can age well? Thirdly, these are not just issues for older people, but for people of all ages and generations. Measures that bring older and younger people together and encourage meaningful mixing will help increase understanding and awareness between generations. This has huge implications for our society and communities.

Originality/value

This paper reaches two main conclusions. Firstly, the well-known saying: “failing to plan is planning to fail”. This applies to all the issues discussed in this paper re future pandemics, our ageing society and future generations. Secondly, the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic should be the catalyst for changing the way we live and lead to new beginnings. We cannot just carry on as before.

Keywords

Citation

Burke, S. (2021), "Post-pandemic challenges for all ages in an ageing society", Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/QAOA-08-2021-0063

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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