BRISBANE’S Marcus Riley is the new, youthful champion for the ageing.
The 40-year-old Catholic father-of-three has headed to United Nations headquarters in New York to advocate for a UN Convention of the Rights of Older Persons.
“At the moment there is a silence about older people across international laws,” said Mr Riley, who this year became chairman of the Global Ageing Network, representing 25,000 organisations in 52 countries.
“There are no specific protections of the rights of older people – very fundamental rights like access to accommodation, food, social and health services as well as (for protection against) age discrimination.”
Worldwide, the proportion of people aged 60 years and over is growing and will continue to grow faster than any other age group due to declining fertility and rising longevity.
The number of older people over 60 years is expected to increase from about 600 million in 2000 to more than 2 billion in 2050.
In developing countries the aged population is expected to triple during the next 40 years, and make up more than 80 per cent of the entire global aged population.
At the same time, the number of “older old” persons (defined as 80 years and over) in the developed world will reach unprecedented levels.
Mr Riley said greater numbers of people would be affected directly by age discrimination and ageism, and this would place pressure on governments and society to respond.
“We’ve seen great examples in previous decades where there have been conventions introduced to protect the rights of women, the rights of children and people with a disability, and they’ve been very successful in helping influence outcomes across the globe,” he said.
“Hence there is a very strong argument that we need a similar instrument that will preserve the rights of older people.”
Mr Riley has his finger on the pulse of the ageing industry, as chief executive officer of BallyCara, a charitable organisation and public benevolent institution that provides retirement living, residential aged care and community care in south-east Queensland.
Mr Riley said his passion for older people “came from having a great relationship” with his four grandparents.
At the age of 17 he started mowing lawns at the retirement village at BallyCara in Scarborough north of Brisbane and “developed an interest in aged services”.
Mr Riley studied business management, has worked in the aged-care industry for the past two decades, and now spends every day working with older people, understanding their needs and concerns, and importantly, “interacting with their families and understanding the challenges they face as their parents or loved ones are ageing”.
“So I feel pretty well equipped to be part of the conversation,” he said.
“The fact that we are living longer is a triumph for humanity. We should be celebrating that we will be having an ageing population.
“We often hear the ageing population being talked about in very negative terms – it’s an ageing tsunami, and there’s a lot of doom and gloom about how our society’s going to cope with an ageing population.
“We should be recognising older people as a really great asset to our society.
“There needs to be a range of choices for older people so they can access not only what they need but what they want.
“And we need quality for older people – in terms of their pursuit of employment, making contribution to public discourse, being involved in decisions for our community and society. They need to be part of that process just like anyone else.”
Mr Riley said there was great knowledge and wisdom to be tapped into, but it required a change of mindset, for example by corporate employers to access the resource of older workers.
And he said older people found it difficult to navigate the healthcare and support system.
“It’s a very complex system. It’s inflexible so people are finding it difficult to understand and navigate. And then the shortcomings of that system – like reduced choices to access,” Mr Riley said.
“And then there is affordability of services that people might need as they age. That is a growing concern for our older population.”
Mr Riley said the current government reductions in health care would affect those requiring the highest level of care.
“And that’s going to put a lot of pressure on existing providers and further pressure on the broader health system as well,” he said.
“There needs to be accurate data to inform the funding projections and ensure that the money is being directed to the most appropriate areas. At the moment that’s in question.”
As he prepared to embark on his trip to UN headquarters, Mr Riley accepted it would be difficult to gain wide support for a convention for the rights of older people.
He will start by trying to raise awareness amongst delegates of member nation.
Mr Riley said Pope Francis had appropriately shone a spotlight on the needs of our ageing population – a message he could also take to New York.
“(The Pope speaks of) the need to support them and do better by them. And to me that is very inspiring – better focusing on some of those important issues like caring for older people,” he said.
“At the moment we are finding that some of the less developed nations such as those from Latin America and across Africa are very supportive [of a convention], whereas Australia, the US and Europe are slower in coming to the table.
“A big shift occurred in the UN when they started to look at this issue of older people as a human rights issue and not just an economic issue.
“And I think that is going to help countries like Australia embrace it as a genuine issue that needs attention and support.
“A universal convention would then help enforce a set of minimum standards which countries from the UN would be obligated to comply with and maintain those basic levels of fundamental rights.”
On the issue of euthanasia, Mr Riley said a “better community conversation” was needed about how we treated people approaching the end of life.
“How do we do better palliative care in the home, how do we provide better choices for people and their families at that critical time,” he said.
“I think there is some concerning data around the prevalence of suicide particularly in older men aged over 85.
“I think there are lessons learned at the moment which need to be brought into the conversation about euthanasia and then a range of groups from our society can come together without preconceived ideas and look at the best way forward.”
Mr Riley and his family are members of St Therese and St Anthony’s Parish in Kedron.
He is a director of Australian Marist Solidarity, which supports development and aid projects worldwide.