SCOTLAND should strive to be the most “age-friendly” society in Europe as it grapples with a growing demographic timebomb, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Older people has said.
SNP MSP Christina McKelvie claimed that the elderly can serve as a “shining light” for younger generations as she launched a conference set up to discuss the challenges an ageing population will bring.
People aged 75 and over are projected to be the fastest growing group in Scotland in the coming decades, with the number projected to increase by 27 per cent during the next ten years, and by 79% over the next 25 years.
The Herald and GenAnalytics EngAGE Conference -The Festival of Ageing is being held in association with The Scottish Government to explore how  this increasingly elderly population and workforce can be turned into an opportunity for the country as a whole.
Ms McKelvie said there needed to be more positive stereotypes associated with getting older, and that there was too much negativity surrounding the elderly.
She said: “We have a big job of work to do to make sure we keep these people healthy, fit engaged and connected – all the things we want to see to happen.
“The working population is also ageing with more workers over the age of 50. We need to respond to all of that and make sure we are ready for it as well.
“But we should also recognise that we should celebrate ageing and celebrate the wisdom of age and all the things that brings to us.”
The Minister believes it is time to stop regarding the elderly as a burden and to recognise the part they play in society, and their potential to contribute in many areas.  She said: “All the narrative around ageing is about people being weak, or frail, or a burden.
“But we don’t want older people blamed for the problems with the NHS or blamed for young people not being able to get jobs.
“How we portray that is important as well and we need to change that narrative.”
She added: “Older people can be shining lights, leading the way and serving as a huge inspiration to all of us.
“We need to capture those abilities and those experiences and that enthusiasm.”
The EngAGE Conference is the brainchild of Dr Lesley Sawers, Director of the research consultancy GenAnalytics.
Dr Sawers said: “The important part for us is about putting people at the centre of ageing and making sure that we adopt a rights-based approach, and that we start to create a future not just for those who are older now but for generations to come.
“It’s about people having to work longer, so how do we ensure they have meaningful work?
“It’s also recognising that people are going to be living until they’re 100, and people will be living longer. It’s about how we unlock that potential to make it more meaningful and financially viable – and for our society to make it more viable.”
The conference, which is being held at Glasgow Caledonian University and is supported by NTT DATA, will take a ‘festival’ approach and will run alongside a public event at the university showcasing activities to promote wellbeing for the over 50s, including aspects of the research and healthcare training activities at GCU.
University Principal Pamela Gillies said: “We all learn for life and we’ve got to make sure that our elderly population can still contribute. They need to be active to contribute, they need to be actively mentally. But they need to be financially healthy as well.
“And we know that technology can help our elderly population to really engage if they can come to terms with it and get to grips with it.
“The university has the expertise to cross these areas. We’re interested in promoting … and making sure we have an ‘asset’ approach to ageing.”