WE WANT W add life to years, not just years to life — that is really what the present Age Action Year is all about. Already there are more than nine million people in the United Kingdom of pensionable age, and in another four years we shall be facing an "age bulge" with the over 75s having increased by 100,000.
It's good that more people are living longer, but it's not good that so many will face feeblemindedness and other disabilities — feel cast aside and unwanted.
Age Action Year has attempted to change attitudes to old age and direct people to see it as a time of new opportunities. The community needs the wisdom, the skills, the commonsense and the sense of loyalty which so many elderly people can give.
During this year all the many organisations involved with the elderly have attempted to re-double their efforts on their behalf, The Churches have played their part and Age Action Sunday was the occasion for thousands of special services.
From Cornwall to Cumberland, from London to Lancashire, special Age Action Year groups have tackled the problems facing the elderly around them with enterprise and vigour. They have been a catalyst in getting things done.
One of the first groups off the ground was at Witney. Oxfordshire, which having raised £17,000 and was given a building for a new Day Centre in the town.
Other groups have provided minibuses to transport otherwise housebound elderly to.centres and cl:nics.
In Lancashire a mobile exhibition was established which featured information about pensions, benefits, day centres, chiropody services and other useful items. The Exhibition may well continue as a permanent service.
Age Action Year is to be marked in the Malvern area of Worcestershire by a survey to find out what is needed by old people in that area. A mobile day centre was provided by Help the Aged for use in the north-east.
Many. areas have been stimulated into good neighbourliness. The list of group activity is endless and encouraging — all part of the aim to improve the quality of life.
Age Action Year will also see the provision of a foundation for co-ordinated research into ageing itself.
This opens up exciting possibilities for everyone, because if we are to make old age a time of interest and healthy activity we have to know how to make people fit into later years, how to make the best use of available resources and how to gear our living throughout our lives so that we know how to make the best of our own "bonus years."
Britain badly needs this foundation, because although we are ahead of so many countries in the field of geriatric medicine, we do lag behind in not having a foundation to co-ordinate and direct various fields of research.
The research envisaged will tackle memory loss and senile dementia, which affects 27 per cent of those over 85; it will tackle incontinence which is, both distressing and humiliating; diabetes which is the cause of many heart attacks and strokes; retirement with its problems and opportunities, and other social matters.
The foundation will mean that every one of us can look to a more hopeful future. This new foundation which has such potential will require a lot of money, and it was this which prompted Sir Lindsay Ring (Lord Mayor of London till last month) to make Age Action Year his special appeal and put into it all his energy and enthusiasm.
This was infectious, and the money has been coming in: first from individuals whose contributions are still required, then from companies and trusts, and recently a significant move has come from the trade union movement.
Jack Jones challenged members of his own union and others to donate one penny a week . from their wages.
Su as the year comes to an end it has also reached a climax.
People in Britain have become more aware than ever before of the needs of the elderly. They have also seen that these needs can be met on the two fronts pioneered by Age Action Year. First, at the local level, so much can be done for the elderly among us. Secondly, at the research level: and we can all contribute to the setting up of the new foundation. So we approach 1977 poised to take forward work done in Age Action Year 1976.
We have all — young, old. middle-aged — moved into a new area in caring for and considering the elderly. Not only are the aged being thought of as a priority group when it comes to care, but attitudes towards them are changing.
No longer are they considered as being unimportant because they no longer bring home the bacon. It is being realised that the bacon is not the only thing that matters. The elderly have things to offer which are much more precious — friendship, patience, wisdom and affection.
But what of the elderly themselves, whom this year is all about? It would he wrong if we did not challenge them to do something for the rest of the country.
We say to them that we need them badly: they must forget that they have been frequently ignored and given less consideration than they deserve.
For instance, they must meet the young ones half way — offer help to young parents, join Church and community groups and be willing to take on often tedious but essential offices. Above all they must offer their friendship to the young.
Much of what has been begun in Age Action Year will continue, both through local activity and national fundraising. And as we draw to the official end of the year Christmas approaches with opportunities for each one to make it a more joyous time for someone else.
So many old people are living alone, and a visit on Christmas morning can mean so much. Let the children take a Christmas card and show some of their presents.
Or invite an old person into your home to see the Christmas tree and the presents. You do not have to press them to stay for a meal unless you know them well.
And why not make sure that the elderly people who want to go to Midnight Mass have transport provided? Christmas is indeed a time for sharing, and we must make a special effort to include the aged in our festivity.
Let Age Action Year be an occasion for seeking out your elderly neighbours.