Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy

Active Ageing: Dream or Reality

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy

Active Ageing: Dream or Reality

Article excerpt


Noting the New Zealand Minister of Health's encouragement that occupational therapists assert their role in population health, Wilcock argues that individual therapists and the profession at large should support active ageing, both in their day-to-day practice and through political activism. Citing personal, historical and research evidence, and UN and WHO policy, she puts the case that only those older people who act against western cultural stereotypes of a sedentary old age can achieve healthy ageing. Occupational therapists, with their knowledge of health through occupation, are urged to support this vision as a matter of human rights.

Key words

Public health, well-being, older people, human rights

Wilcock, A. A. (2007). Active ageing: Dream or reality? New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, 54(1), 15-20


At the opening ceremony of the NZAOT Conference in 2006 the Minister for Health addressed the need for occupational therapists to recognize and assert their role in population health particularly for those who are ageing. By so doing he offered New Zealand occupational therapists an important opportunity that should not be missed. To that end, I recommend that as many as possible embrace graduate study in the field of public health. Speaking as a member of the global community to which we all belong, and as a doctor of public health, I believe this is where the future of occupational therapy lies, and it is with this orientation that I address you.

As a preliminary to this paper about 'Active Ageing' and with particular reference to the western world, I draw to your attention the fact that many older people have a great deal of expertise to point the way to the maintenance or improvement of their own health, particularly as it relates to their physical, mental and social well-being. This differs from many in government and the health professions who deem the ageing population as health problems by relating health solely to the absence of disease or dysfunction. For example, the politician opening the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) Congress in July 2006 discussed the ageing population as a challenge that needs to be overcome in the present time and more so in the years ahead. Such framing reflects the patronising and derogatory views of ageing held by many who are not yet aged. I am one of the challenges, and I draw on other experts on ageing--namely those who are experiencing it. I suggest that occupational therapists, if they are to enter the population health field, particularly those who address the issue of active ageing, also need to accept and support the expertise of those successfully finding their own way in largely unexplored territory.

Ageing happens! It has happened to me and it will to you. Chronic disease does not necessarily happen with ageing and it can be substantially contained by ongoing activities that promote physical, mental and social well-being. The latter idea is at the heart of active ageing, and to my mind, it is the rationale for taking an occupational perspective of health for all people.

Active ageing does not necessarily happen. That it should will provide the essence of this paper. It is not alive and well in communities such as ours. That is except amongst some of those striving to be active agers who often, daily, have to fight against conventions, bureaucracy, families, and health professionals for that right. It is a difficult fight for many. It may call for the fight of their lives, at a socio-political level as well as a personal one, and it places huge demands at a time when many are financially strapped, physically hobbled, emotionally fatigued, and socially ignored.

Let me share a few quotes of commonly held ideas about ageing that are counter to active ageing. They are from an appropriately 'aged' 1979 text entitled A Good Age by Alex Comfort, an enlightened physician. …

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