Is This Old Age Setting in? On Senior Citizens’ Needs and Municipal Capacity
During a Local Development Forum seminar in Kędzierzyn-Koźle, local government officials and experts discussed options of organising services for senior citizens and reconciling their needs with municipal capabilities.

Invitations to the seminar organised as part of the “Use of Endogenous Potentials as a Condition for Small- and Medium-Sized Towns Development in Poland” cycle were traditionally sent out by the Association of Polish Cities withthe city of Kędzierzyn-Koźle joining the effort. The session was included in the agenda of the “Accepting Old Age – Organising Services for Senior Citizens” conference organised at the Municipal Centre of Culture in Kędzierzyn-Koźle on January 25th 2024.

Marzanna Derkacz-Jedynak, MD, family doctor and geriatrician, spoke of what old age is, and related processes affecting the human body. She commented extensively on stereotypes involving the elderly and their issues, focusing on ageism as well – the latter a major term included in the glossary of discrimination-related terms, continually expanding these days.

Simply put, ageism is age-related discrimination. Most usually – though by no means always – it concerns labour market-related issues (finding and/or keeping a job). It is also apparent in disregard for older individuals, and a poor entertainment and/or recreation offer targeting the group. It impacts the elderly, who are frequently seen as redundant. In Poland, ageism affects women over thirty-five and men over forty-five years of age.

Agnieszka Franczyk, Ph.D., social psychologist, pedagogue and assistant professor at the Institute of Pedagogical Sciences, University of Opole, described the psychological aspects of the ageing process and related needs of the senior community. Her intervention included i.a. a reference to Rowe and Kahn’s much-cited Model of Successful Aging. Their Model is based on three components: low probability of illness and related disability, high level of cognitive and physical functioning, and active engagement with life. All related publications share a common thought: we all have a say with regard to the quality of the final stage of our lives, after all; we can all take action to improve its quality.

Other topics on the agenda included techniques of analysing the senior community’s needs, the use of state-of-the-art technologies, and conditions for reconciling needs of the elderly with urban capabilities. Participants considered the role and importance of informal caregivers (rarely included in municipal social policies), and the potential and actual forms of supporting them.

Experts and practitioners representing cities and towns pointed out that while offering assistance to special needs individuals does not need to be hugely expensive, it ought to be tailor-made to suit the requirements of the elderly and their informal caregivers.

The debate was attended by experts representing i.a. Włocławek, Opole, Jarocin, Ujazd, and Strzelce Opolskie. Online streaming allowed social welfare staff from across Poland to participate. Polish Sign Language interpretation made the session available for the Deaf as well. A total of 170 persons followed the meeting online.

Kędzierzyn-Koźle became pivotal to the senior citizens’ policy-related debate, representatives of the city presenting local solutions. Attendees were given a description of i.a. programmes and projects delivered at five daycare homes, and of how senior citizens are activated through encouragement to join workshops, training sessions and integration meetings. Local forms of supporting informal caregivers to dependants and the elderly were discussed as well.

Some of the initiatives addressing residents over sixty years of age were introduced as part of the project “Dugnad in Kędzierzyn-Koźle. Integrating Residents and Rebuilding Neighbourly Relations as a Basis for Local Development”.

“The term ‘dugnad’ has no direct equivalent in the Polish language. Dugnad is a generations-old Norwegian custom of neighbourly help, joining pro bono work, and civic activity,” materials focusing on the Kędzierzyn-Koźle project read. “Every once in a while, residents of a given block of flats, street or housing estate get together to support the local community with free-of-charge work. An essential part of dugnad is to get to know your neighbours, to integrate and chat – and spend time together over a meal prepared during community work, making the shared day more pleasant. Norwegians are greatly attached to the tradition”.

The project is funded by the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism 2014-2021 and Norwegian Financial Mechanism 2014-2021 (85%), and Polish state budget resources as part of the “Local Development” Programme (15%).