Older adults and the youth are two very important segments of our society. Unfortunately the gap between both these groups is ever widening due to neglect and carelessness and this has led to their suffering. They are the two ends of our continuum… one that has seen much in the world and the other who are just beginning to experience the ups and downs of life.

All over the world, people feel concerned about this issue. The report published by Global Aging on Role of Older People, 8-12 April 2002, Madrid, says:

“Older persons are the custodians of our traditions, our heritage and our cultures. They reflect our past and are the mirrors of our future. They have the right to a healthy, productive life, to live in a caring environment and to be treated with respect.”

Along similar lines, Maria Menoudakou-Beldekou, the Secretary General for Welfare of Greece emphasizes that their goal is to ensure positive ageing, where people continue to contribute to the society regardless of age. The tasks included, among other things, are securing conditions for a longer active home-life, reducing reliance on institutional care for the elderly and developing community level participation. Older adults are a treasure of experience and skills and societies can benefit from them immensely. It is very important that we make use of this resource properly. In developed countries the older and retired people are more socially motivated and therefore voluntarily participate in environmental and social uplift programmes or even as part-time employees.

On the other hand, there are a number of problems that older people face such as physical ones, because of an ailing health, as well as psychological problems like bereavement which might in turn be due to loneliness and/or fall in socio-economic status after retirement. These problems might also be a result of the lifestyles which are not active but passive where a dormant routine is preferred. In such state of affairs they are deprived of a stimulating environment, hence cognitive decline begins which increases the risk of Alzheimer and dementia. I want to mention here my encounter with two different taxi drivers during our family trip to Los Angeles. First was an Arab settler, an old man who after dropping us at our destination demanded a ten dollar tip above the fare.  The second was a retired Japanese engineer who charged us the amount what the taxi meter displayed. He voluntarily drives a taxi because he likes meeting new people and enjoys driving around the city. The first case was probably of a person belonging to a deprived community and was trying to earn extra money to send back home. The second one tells us of a satisfied adult who wants to be more socially active. Both had different circumstances which guided their respective behaviours in dealing with their retirement; it is the second one that I want us to really appreciate.

According to WHO Fact Sheet the number of adults suffering from dementia is 47.5 million worldwide, which is predicted to increase to75.6 million by 2030 and it may increase to 135.5 million by 2050. Here it must be stressed that dementia is not a normal part of ageing. Furthermore it must not be assumed that loss of mental sharpness is just a normal sign of old age rather it could be a sign of dementia or depression. The people’s lifestyle is believed to play some role in determining whether a person will develop dementia or not. In countries like ours the seniors, particularly the ones in the more affluent houses, tend to become socially and physically dependent probably because cheap help is easily available.

Isolation, inactivity and the feeling of uselessness are the major causes of depression in adults and it goes without saying that mental health does affect physical health. However, these causes can be dealt with if a little thought and planning goes into it. The more active you are—physically, mentally, and socially—the better you will feel. Research suggests that people who are more socially and mentally active have a reduced risk of developing dementia. Physical activity has powerful mood-boosting effects. In fact, research suggests that it may be just as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression.

It is a myth to think that after a certain age one cannot learn new skills, try new activities, or make fresh lifestyle changes. The truth is that the human brain never stops changing, so older adults are just as capable as younger people to learn new things and adapt new ideas. Overcoming depression often involves finding new things you might enjoy, learning to adapt to change, staying physically and socially active, and feeling connected to your community and loved ones. It is a matter of keeping the flame alive.

There is a strong need, in our society, for more adults to volunteer in the uplifting of our social structure. Intergenerational work like assistance in schools and orphanages, story reading to children even adults, assisting sports activities in mohallas and other residential areas, tutoring or even, mentoring young businessmen. This can go a long way in bringing down barriers between different age groups besides providing opportunities of guided extracurricular activities and hobbies for the children. This way the young will appreciate and acquire from the skills of the experienced adults and also the problem of unassisted youth falling prey to drug addiction and other criminal and illegal activities can also be tackled. I strongly believe that one football, twenty two teenagers and one adult to guide them can form the best pass-time activity for children. Activities like these may be the easiest and probably the only way to control many of our social ills. An adult who is mentally free of his responsibilities of educating and marrying off his children, if participates in such activities can influence the youth in a very positive and constructive manner by using his experience.

It is also important that instead of wasting all that knowledge and experience, it should be fully utilised by involving our seniors, physically and socially, in controlled developmental programmes. The union councils can play a great role in organizing these programmes. Here it must be pointed out that many of the senior adults who are grandparents are already informally contributing to the economy by caring for their grandchildren as their parents go to work.

The communication of the seniors with youth can have a very positive effect. The children are bursting with energy and spirit. However, if this energy is unleashed without any guidance it can result in juvenile delinquencies. Unfortunately, it is happening at an alarming rate. If we bring the two segments together we will be able to rid our society with many of the problems like the speeding cognitive decline in the older people and the kids getting involved in wrong activities.

In the quickly deteriorating social structure of today it has become very important that everyone participates in filling the gaps between different segments of our society. The older and the young can both benefit from one another. Considering the current situation of our society there is a strong need that people rise above their status consciousness and pool in to the uplifting of the society which has greatly declined in values and manners. On one hand there is need for appropriate and healthy activities to be generated for our much misguided youth and on the other healthy and active ageing needs to be promoted.