omeone once said beautifully: “Old age is the best time of your life since the restrictions that come with youth fall away.” The point being made here is not to just think of frailty, health and care needs that come naturally with age, but to think of the immense opportunities that come with old age. This positive paradigm of old age has been articulated in a number of approaches over the last few decades, including ‘active ageing’ by the World Health Organisation in 2002, followed by their shift to ‘healthy ageing’ in 2015, preceded by the focus on ‘successful ageing’ by the American gerontologist John Rowe and ‘productive ageing’ by others. All these approaches have one feature in common: they are looking for ways of shifting individual ageing trajectories to a positive purpose.
All active and healthy ageing strategies take on the tasks of changing attitudes and behaviours and creating a social environment that is rich in opportunities during old age for maintaining engagement and avoiding unnecessary dependence on others. The paradigm of healthy and active ageing affirms the value of policies that enable older people to make the most of their potential by contributing and by reducing dependence on family and on state.
In Pakistan, old age population – aged 60 and above – was estimated to be around 15 million in the year 2021. There were only 15 countries worldwide that had a similar population of more than 10 million. It is projected by the UN Population Division that by 2050 the older population in Pakistan will reach a staggering 43 million, accounting for almost 15 percent of the total population. This increase in the number of older people in Pakistan is mainly due to the fact that people are living longer (and healthier). When I was born, in the early 1960s, the average life expectancy at birth was around 40; it has now increased to almost 70. This increased life expectancy is attributed to advances in healthcare, medical technology and improved living conditions – these are societal achievements that need to be celebrated.
The process of population ageing presents both opportunities and challenges for Pakistan. On the one hand, an ageing population can lead to an increase in the demand for healthcare services and social care support systems for older adults. On the other hand, older individuals can contribute to society through their knowledge, skills and experience – thus, given rising number of older age people, promoting active and healthy ageing becomes the most desirable policy course for Pakistan and for many countries worldwide.
For Pakistan as a whole, an active and healthy ageing policy of great significance is to raise retirement age from 60 to 65. This extension in working careers should be accompanied with measures for gradual retirement, for example, by offering flexible working hours.
Active and healthy ageing strategies should encompass and interact with many different specific policy areas: fostering employment by delaying retirement age; promoting engagement in civic, religious and voluntary activities; reducing financial dependence on others by establishing a social pension for all old-age individuals; generating opportunities for lifelong learning in public and private sector universities and colleges; and by introducing measures in public health that will improve health and well-being of older people.
At Government College University, Lahore, we are providing opportunities of lifelong learning for our older individuals to have access to education free of charge, if they do not require a certification. Moreover, we are busy extending the working careers of our senior colleagues who retire at the young age of 60; e.g., two deans of our university have been made lifetime emeritus professors upon reaching the statutory retirement age of 60.
For Pakistan as a whole, an active and healthy ageing policy of great significance is to raise retirement age from 60 to 65. This extension in working careers should be accompanied with measures for gradual retirement, for example, by offering flexible working hours. Lifelong learning initiatives should be introduced at the workplace so that the skillsets of ageing individuals remain relevant.
Age-friendly physical environments need to be promoted. This is particularly relevant in case of access to buildings (offices and homes) and parks that should be age friendly. Public transport facilities and access to medical care facilities should be made more adequate and affordable for older population. Social and voluntary activities need to be formalised.
Last but not the least, we also need to find role models in our society who live exemplary lives of active and healthy ageing. The first name that comes to mind is a distinguished alumnus of Government College, Lahore, and founding pro-chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences: Syed Babar Ali. At the age reaching 100, he still gives fullest service possible to all his educational, business and social endeavours, and enjoys the social engagements that come with his position. We also see among these role models other distinguished Old Ravians, SM Zafar, Dr Parvez Hassan, Mian Misbah-ur Rehman and Shahbaz Sheikh, among others. They are setting new standards for us, the younger generations, to aspire for an active, healthy and engaged life in old age.
The writer is the vice chancellor of Government College University, Lahore, and an associate professorial fellow at Oxford Institute ofPopulation Ageing, University of Oxford, UK