HelpAge International and the Global AgeWatch Index

index“We work with our partners to ensure that people everywhere understand how much older people contribute to society and that they must enjoy their right to healthcare, social services and economic and physical security.”
~ HelpAge International

HelpAge International is a London-based charity that envisions ‘a world in which all older people can lead dignified, active, healthy and secure lives.’ Originally founded in 1983 as a combination of organizations from Canada, Kenya, India, Columbia and the UK, HelpAge International has grown to 100 affiliates in 65 countries.

HelpAge International established a Global AgeWatch Index in 2013. The index is based on four areas that affect an older adult’s well-being: income, health, capability and enabling environment.

This year’s Global AgeWatch Index rated Canada 4th (out of 96 countries) for the social and economic well being of its older adults. The index also rated Canadian older adults as ‘7th in income security, 4th in health status, 8th in capabilities (employment and education), and 9th in enabling environment’.

The 2014 Global AgeWatch Index top ten countries are:

  1. Norway
  2. Sweden
  3. Switzerland
  4. Canada
  5. Germany
  6. Netherlands
  7. Iceland
  8. United States
  9. Japan
  10. New Zealand

What are some of the factors that positively impact the quality of life for older adults in Norway?

To start with, Norway rated 1st for income security for older adults. Norway also had a 15 percentage points higher (70.9%) employment rate among older adults coupled with ‘the highest rate of educational attainment among older people (99.4%).’

One of the main reasons for Norway’s economic security is the wealth procured from heavily taxing Norway’s oil and gas industries. According to an article in the London Telegraph Norway created the Government Pension Fund Global commonly known as the Oil Fund – which has since grown to become one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds. Much of the country’s oil revenues are channeled into the fund, which is invested globally to pay for the growing financial demands of an ageing population.’

Norway also ‘comes in at number 4 in the enabling environment domain, with high rates of perception of safety (86%) and civic freedom (96%) among older people.’

In 1970, the National Council for Senior Citizens was created to give Norway’s older adults a voice in local politics and issues concerning the elderly.

Norway’s success appears to be a combination of economic wealth and progressive social policies. As the Global AgeWatch Index report states ‘economic growth alone will not improve older people’s wellbeing, … specific policies must be put in place to address the context-specific challenges of demographic changes’.


Using therapeutic clowns in long term care homes is a fairly new innovation. According to the Canadian Association of Therapeutic Clowns the first Canadian therapeutic clown program was founded in 1986 at the Winnipeg Children’s hospital. The association suggests that this may be the first formal therapeutic clown program in the world. Elder care is not mentioned in the association’s historical section until 2001 at a hospital in Windsor, Ontario.

Although therapeutic clowning is still typically associated with pediatric facilities, elder-clowning is gaining recognition. At the Canadian Association on Gerontology (CAG) annual conference last week, lead researcher Pia Kontos presented a research project entitled Playfulness, sadness, and the imaginary: Contributions of persons with dementia to elder-clowning.

The research project explored how older dementia patients in long term care homes engaged with elder-clowns and what they may “bring to the interaction including their own ways of being, provoking and performing”. The CAG presentation showed several videos of older adults playfully engaging with therapeutic clowns. The older adults were not only fully engaged and thoroughly enjoying themselves but also took the lead and created their own dynamic antics. On the other hand, Kontos discussed the need for therapeutic clowns to recognize when clients are sad and to validate their feelings rather than trying to cheer them up.

Findings of the research project “suggest visits were most successful when the elder-clowns were responsive to the deliberate playfulness and imaginativeness of those with dementia, and validated and supported residents’ expressions of sadness”.

As many of the sessions at CAG suggested, creativity has the potential to improve the lives of older adults in so many meaningful ways.

The Purchasing Power of Older Adults

Jessica LangeJessica Lange, age 65 in a 2014 ad for Marc Jacobs Beauty.

In today’s youth obsessed culture, advertisers often overlook older adults as potential consumers. However, for most companies to remain successful and relevant, they need to recognize older adults as a growing demographic with substantial purchasing power.

A 2014 Bank of Montreal Economics Report explains that older adults “in a little over a decade, will become the largest spending group, accounting for one in five shopping dollars versus one in seven today.” To put it another way “the typical senior is nearly nine times richer than the typical millennial, a wealth gap between similar age groups that has more than doubled since 1984”.

If they are not paying attention to this demographic today’s advertisers may be missing out on a huge opportunity.

Beth Hershfeld explains this phenomenon in an article entitled The Biggest Market you are not focused on: Opportunities of an aging population. Hershfeld suggests that “baby boomers and seniors are craving products and services to meet their changing needs” and that they have the “desire and money to pay for them”.

As an example Hershfeld uses the health and beauty products markets. She contends “although the mature market accounts for almost half of the beauty spending in North America, almost 70% of women in this demographic feel ignored by the fashion and beauty markets”.

In order to successfully market to older adults, Hershfeld stresses that advertisers need to be aware that, like any other demographic, older adults are not a homogenous group. In an article entitled Five Tips to Reach the Dominant Demographic: Marketing strategies to maximize potential with the mature market Hershfeld suggests the following tips for targeting the mature consumer market:

  1. Understand your target
  2. Be respectful
  3. Optimize product design for their needs
  4. Focus on substance not flash
  5. Help them maintain their independence

If you pay close attention, you can see advertising trends slowly changing to capture the older adult market. Misty Harris, in her article Timeless beauty: Seniors tapped for luxury makeup, fashion ads points out several companies that are embracing older adults as their models. One example is Marc Jacobs Beauty who enlisted Jessica Lange, age 65, as their new model.

If you are interested in marketing to older adults, join us at the next Business of Aging: Information Exchange Network (BA:IEN) quarterly meeting where Cathryn Oliver from Sheridan’s Faculty of Business and BA:IEN co-lead will discusses key facts about older adults as consumers. See below for details.

BAIEN mtg Oct_14 FINAL






Celebrate Canadian Library Month

cla-LibraryMonth-banner-web-e-v1-300x158“Canada’s libraries make a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals and in our communities. They help to inspire Canadians to celebrate our culture, to advance universal and equitable access to information, to support lifelong learning and to document and preserve our heritage for generations to come.”
~ Canadian Library Association

According to the Canadian Library Association there are 22,000 libraries in Canada serving 97% of Canadian communities. To honour your local library share your personal story online about ‘how libraries have touched your life and opened new opportunities’.

If you are experiencing difficulty reading due to vision loss, most libraries provide a large print book and audio book section. According to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind vision loss and aging information, older eyes require better lighting. ‘It is also best to have a good light source coming from over your shoulder when you read’. For those of us using new technology there are apps available that turn your mobile device into a magnifying glass such as Eye Reader.

Libraries are the perfect source for life-long learning opportunities. Here are some books that are of interest to the Centre’s team:

  1. The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life
    by Gene D. Cohen
  2. The Longevity Revolution: The Benefits and Challenges of Living a Long Life
    by Robert N. Butler
  3. Aging as a Spiritual Journey by Eugene C. Bianchi
  4. The Blue Zones, 2nd edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest by Dan Buettner
  5. Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders by Mary Pipher
  6. Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America by Marc Freedman
  7. Earth’s Elders: The Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People by Jerry Friedman

Contact your local library for Library Month events or access the Canadian Library Month Events Page.