Aging Around the World: Italy

by Patti Digh, Council on Aging for Henderson County Board Member

In this series, we are exploring the norms around aging in each of the countries that will be represented at our Wine Around the World event on October 22, 2015. There are only a handful of tickets left, but they’re going fast. Tickets can be purchased at our office or online here: coa.eventbrite.


“Using their collective experience, their moral courage and their ability to rise above the parochial concerns of nation, race and creed, they can help make our planet a more peaceful, healthy and equitable place to live. Let us call them Global Elders, not because of their age, but because of their individual and collective wisdom. We call this the spirit of Ubuntu – that profound African sense that we are human only through the humanity of other human beings.”
– Nelson Mandela, Founder, The Elders

What if we didn’t have a “needs­-based” perspective of aging, but a “resource­-based” view of it instead? What if society more often celebrated the achievements of the elderly and applauded them for their unique accomplishments than they decried the “costs” of an aging population? At 99, Miczyslaw Horszowski, a classical pianist, recorded a new album; at 91, Hilda Crooks climbed Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the United States; and at 91, Lucille Borgen won the National Water Ski title. These elderly may be labeled as “over achievers;” however, they are examples of Active Aging – people who are successful, positive, and experiencing a high quality of life in their aging years. Aging is not a disease, or a problem; rather, it is an inevitability, and a privilege, given how many around us die far too young.


WAW-Italy-blogpostThe major backbones supporting activity in the elderly must be reinforced by the culture of that society, and the policies and the political support as witnessed in societies with a large aging population, such as Italy. Italy’s elderly population continues to be productive and active as its country’s policies and environmental infrastructure fosters and “supports at the individual level the variability, plasticity, and modifiability of the elderly.”

This approach is obviously not taken in many other Western nations and, interestingly, in Italy “Active Aging” is considered to start in childhood, encompassing everyone in society. For the Italians, addressed when a person gets to be sixty­-four, but must be considered when they are in their twenties and thirties, since their activities at that point will likely mirror their involvement in those same activities when they are in their sixties. Successful aging in Italy is a multidisciplinary, multigenerational collaboration.

Italy has one of the longest life expectancy rates in the world, about 84.5 years, with 20.8% of its population, aged 65 and over. It is vital, then, that this country do what it can to keep the elderly healthy and contributing to society.

The World Health Organization Aging and Life Course Programme has defined “Active Aging” as “the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.”  “Active Aging” is not only keeping Italy’s elderly populations fit, but also supporting and nurturing an environment that empowers an aging individual with educational and volunteering opportunities to remain an active member of society.

How does the Council on Aging for Henderson County reflect the value Italy places on “Active Aging”? By providing members of “Lunch at the Sammy” (our congregate nutrition program at the Sammy Williams Center) with weekly yoga and balance classes, we provide options for healthy & active aging.

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