Hamish L Robertson, Editor of our major new book, The Caring Museum, writes:
The United Nations recently released its revised world population projections. These include current and projected populations and life expectancies for every country in the world. The figures illustrate that the overall global population will increase and so too will life expectancies. The total population of people aged 65 and over in the more developed regions will rise from just over 220 million people this year to more than 400 million by 2050. But in the less developed regions this pattern is magnified, rising from just under 400 million to around 1.2 billion people. This is population ageing as transformative demography and most of these older people will be women.
The majority of these people are going to live in cities as global urbanization continues at its current pace. More than this, we can see that there is a rising demand for people who will live and work in these expanding cities in the health/aged care/disability sectors – including not just as workers in institutional settings but as direct care service providers (this is already common in some countries). Most developed countries know that these people will come from somewhere else, so diversity will continue to be a key feature of population ageing (and aged care) as an international phenomenon. While another emerging pattern is that in some countries regional and rural areas will continue to lose their younger populations and rely on older women to maintain services and economic wellbeing. This almost certainly includes local cultural heritage.
These trends suggest that ageing, disability, diversity and gender need to be key considerations for any country working on social policy developments. This includes the cultural heritage sector because employees, volunteers, donors and visitors will reflect these dynamic social and demographic characteristics. In addition, the experiences museums already have with older people need to be documented, coordinated and seen as an evidence base and resource for further developments in our ageing world.
What we are also starting to see is the rise of the interventionist museum. A variety of age-related innovations and interventions such as social prescribing and dementia-specific programmes are making the museum a site for a variety of health and ageing developments. This may soon make cultural heritage another branch of the increasingly interconnected health and disability sectors. Better than this though is the fact that most museums and museum professionals want to make their institutions more rather than less accessible (in contrast to some systems) and they clearly don’t see older people as secondary to their work.
The potential of these emerging changes is hugely significant for museums and while there are clearly a variety of challenges, the opportunities also seem numerous. Museums already make positive contributions to ageing and their ageing audiences are growing at a considerable rate, whether these are local or international visitors. This is an increasingly global pattern. Museums are already repositories for cultural and social memories. In the context of the changes mentioned above, this role can only grow in significance. In a world that is both ageing and changing, memory matters more than ever as it supports our understanding of where we came from, who we are and where we are going.