North Karelia - Strong competence in ageing

Page 1

Arja Jämsén & Tuula Kukkonen



Publication Series B:37 Chief Editor

Kari Tiainen Authors

Arja Jämsén & Tuula Kukkonen Graphic Design and Layout

Salla Anttila Photos & Riikka Ruotsalainen

Arja Jämsén, Master of Social Sciences

Director Eastern Finland Centre of Excellence on Social Welfare Kirkkokatu 35 b A 7, 80100, Joensuu, Finland Tel. +358 44 591 2005 Email:

Translated by

Laura Väistö © Authors and Karelia University of Applied Sciences No part of this publication may be reproduced withoutthe prior permission as provided by the Copyright Law in Finland. ISBN 978-952-275-161-4 (printed) ISNB 978-952-275-162-1 (online publication) ISSN-L 2323-6876 ISSN 2323-6876 Subscriptions Karelia University of Applied Sciences Joensuu, LaserMedia Oy, 2015

Tuula Kukkonen, Doctor of Social Sciences Principal Lecturer Karelia University of Applied Sciences Tikkarinne 9, 80200 Joensuu, Finland Tel. +358 50 467 5923 Email:

Published in Finnish in Gerontologia 2/2014.





astern Finland and North Karelia have been called the laboratory of ageing. The reason for this title is based on the demography of the region; the share of older people in the area is growing faster and earlier than in any other part of Finland. Today’s age structure of the province is different from Europe and other parts of Finland that will face the same situation not until after 20 years. The chair of the Senior Citizens Council of Joensuu (Hassinen 2011) has stated that the only resource in North Karelia that is constantly growing is older people. While the share of people over 65 years of age in the entire country is 17 percent, the corresponding share in North Karelia is currently 21.3 percent of the population. By 2020, it is estimated that the share of people over 65 years of age will compose a third of the population in North Karelia. Today, the share of people over 65 years of age in Pielinen Karelia, Lieksa and Nurmes is already 28.4 percent. (Tilastokeskus 2014; Pohjois-Karjalan ennakointiportaali 2014;

Pohjois-Karjalan maakuntaliitto 2014a; Pohjois-Karjalan maakuntaliitto 2014b, 14–16). Similarly, Simo Koskinen described the rapidly ageing society on the Government Report on the Future (Valtioneuvosto 2004) already ten years ago, highlighting the search for opportunities and new perspectives. The report used, for example, the concepts of active, strong and productive ageing. It was also estimated in the report that the aged can be a resource for the society in a variety of ways in the future. Despite this, the discussion in Finland on ageing has been mainly characterised by a negatively toned concern. Is the demographic change and the ageing population bad news, an ongoing concern, pension crisis and a bunch of costs? Or could the ageing of the population be seen from some other perspective? Could this ageing result in a new nokia or angry birds? Could our competence in ageing be our strength, even so that we could export this competence? This article examines issues related to ageing in the context

4 of North Karelia. The background for the emergence of the new concept competence in ageing will be reflected and developed further. In this article, ageing will also be structured in three phases of life each of which sets different types of challenges for the competence.

DEFINING THE TERM COMPETENCE IN AGEING The term competence in ageing has been developed in different North Karelian education and development networks since 2009. (Jämsén & Koivumäki 2009; Jämsén & Kukkonen 2010; Nuutinen & Jämsén 2011; Jämsén 2013; Ikäosaaminen 2014.) The discussion around this concept has arisen based on an everyday observation: the province of North Karelia has a surprisingly large number of ageing-related development activities, education and even research. And particularly, there are people who are eager to develop and who are able to predict our future needs. As people are ageing, we need both services and skilled employees. Consequently, a strong common opinion was discovered about the insufficiency of competence and development of traditional care of and services for older people as part of common health care and social services provision in an ageing society. We cannot only talk about the aged, but we need to talk about ageing instead. The development is no longer sufficient to be based on systemor service-orientation, although they do need development and reforms as well. According to the concept competence in ageing, an ageing society primarily needs a broad perspective, knowledge and understanding of the meaning of ageing of the population from the viewpoints of the entire society and its different parts and levels. Older people’s own activity and involvement, skills and experiences are inherent in this approach. The Proud Age movement has achieved a broader perspective by bringing new, fresh and

According to the concept competence in ageing, an ageing society primarily needs a broad perspective, knowledge and understanding of the meaning of ageing of the population from the viewpoints of the entire society and its different parts and levels.

even rebellious ways of thinking on the discussion of ageing and launched a different, non-traditional image of the aged (Proud Age 2014). In 2010, we defined competence in ageing as follows: We understand ageing as a broad and multi-dimensional phenomenon. We need diversified, multi-disciplinary expertise to understand the impact of ageing. Competence in ageing includes knowledge, skills, attitudes and ethics. Competence in ageing affects all levels of society, individuals and communities. Furthermore, we need older people’s own expertise and participation. The core of the competence consists of the knowledge and skills of social services and health care. (Jämsén & Kukkonen 2010).



Today, we can understand competence in ageing the following way:

become a common development structure for students, older people and working life partners.

Competence in ageing is competence related to ageing and its societal, communal and individual impacts. Competence in ageing is both professional and experiential knowledge that brings together older people, experts, professionals and developers from different fields. The core of the competence consists of the knowledge and skills of social services and health care. Ageing affects the entire society, and competence in ageing is needed everywhere when dealing with people and their diverse circumstances of life.

The ageing of the population and competence in ageing are considered opportunities for the region of North Karelia by the Regional Plan and Programme by the Regional Council of North Karelia (Pohjois-Karjalan maakuntaliitto 2014a; 2014b). Furthermore, strengthening of ageing-related competence is one of the three strategic focus areas of the Eastern Finland Centre of Excellence on Social Welfare (Itä-Suomen sosiaalialan osaamiskeskus (2014).

In North Karelia, competence in ageing has been selected as one of the key strategic focus areas and it is considered an opportunity for regional development and a future resource. It is also one of the strategic focus areas of Karelia University of Applied Sciences (Karelia-ammattikorkeakoulu 2014). At Karelia UAS, competence in ageing is developed in the education both at curriculum-level and in form of new cooperation practices between education and working life partners. Nationally, a new step in this area of expertise will be taken by launching a Master’s Degree Programme in Active Ageing in 2015. In addition, students in various fields, such as engineering, business economics and culture, will have a chance to study ageing-related issues as part of their common complementary studies. Also, the focus on ageing is evident in the research, development and innovation activities of Karelia UAS Centre for Social Services and Health Care and its regional working life partners. The development projects are mainly focusing on competence in ageing. A new learning and service environment, Voimala, is also under construction. It will

EXPANDING AND SPECIFYING THE PERSPECTIVE ON AGEING The need for comprehensive and multi-disciplinary competence in ageing-related issues is also based on the need for defining the concepts and focusing on the essentialities when discussing ageing. What are we actually talking about when we talk about ageing and the aged? The diversity of ageing is also reflected by the diversity of concepts. The wide range of terms and approaches also indicates an ongoing change, and even confusion. We have so many types of older people and the term older person can refer to so many ages that it can be difficult to find one, suitable concept for defining them all. In North Karelia, the term ikäihminen (older person) has been used, which is a neutral and an unstigmatised Finnish word. Other terms commonly used in Finnish are ikääntyvä (ageing person) and ikääntynyt (the aged) as well as eläkeläinen (pensioner), seniori (senior citizen) and vanhus (the elderly), all of which add their own flavour and nuance in the discussions on the topic. People have different attitudes towards these concepts: one may get offended if called pensioner, while someone else wishes not to be identified as an elderly per-

6 son. Gray panther and cougar are also new concepts created by the media. Over the years, increased life expectancy and social and cultural changes have shaped the concepts and the ways we speak about them.

DIVERSIFYING CONCEPT OF AGEING A project dealing with ageing-related innovations by the University of Eastern Finland (Ikäinnovaatio 2014) has collected different concepts of ageing used by Finnish researchers. The following groupings have been compiled based on this study: » youngest old (60-69), old (70-79), older old (80-89) and oldest old (90-99) » go go stage (65+), slow go stage (75+) and no go stage (85+) » starting old-age (65-74) and old-age (75-80 onwards) These groupings show that one cannot define different ages in definite categories, since there are many ways of being old at different ages. We are used to talking about ageing employees somewhere around the age of 50. On the other hand, today we have more frequently the honour to celebrate the 100th birthdays of old people. This stage from age 50 to 100 consists of a variety of ageing phenomena and experiences. At its best, the ageing process may last up to fifty years and it cannot be fitted into a single model. This ageing phase forms a large proportion of a human’s life and the individuality of ageing, and life in general, challenges the work of trying to define certain ages. When talking about the phenomena of ageing and ageingrelated competence, it is important to refine the perspective. We have divided the concept of ageing in three phases

of life, which are not tied to the number of years, but rather to the situation of life and individual life courses: » ageing employees, » seniors and » old people. We believe that this division can separate the concept of ageing from the number of years and pay more attention to one’s individual situation and phase of life. We will continue to look at the contents of competence in ageing using this division.

AGEING EMPLOYEES Ageing people are requested to continue working longer and longer, although work well-being may suffer and coping with the workload may be diminished. According to a recent study on regional health and well-being (Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos 2014), 41% of the adult population in Pielinen Karelia, for example, does not believe that they will manage to work until their retirement age. The corresponding figure for the entire country is 26%. The ongoing succession in working life is constantly increasing and work communities need managerial competence for leading different-aged people and making good use their knowledge. An ageing employee will benefit from flexible coordination of one’s working capacity and the work itself. The support for ageing employees in staying at work requires both competence management and management of work well-being. The development of the competence of an ageing employee directly affects his well-being at work and job retention. Being at the final stages of one’s careers is, thus, not a sustainable basis for reducing the employee’s


opportunities for training and development of the skills. The transfer of older employees’ skills to younger employees has been discussed for a long time and this transfer of tacit knowledge has been developed through e.g. mentoring activities. When the development of older employees’ competence is valued and considered important, the twoway aspect of the transfer of knowledge is evident: employees at the beginning of their careers can have expertise that older employees can benefit from. The next stage of the development would be processing the competences further together to create new expertise: new, shared knowledge, which does not distinguish employees based on their age or stage of career, will be created. (Kukkonen 2011) In addition to the importance of competence and well-being at work, the work community plays a significant role as regards job retention. The attitudes of the work community


towards age-related changes and the possible consequent changes in one’s working capacity and in the work itself affect the employee’s experience of being able to contribute at the workplace. Open policies at the workplace related to work well-being and ability to work increase the awareness of the fact that changes at the work place are made based on common principles, and individual arrangements are only applications of this policy, not exceptional circumstances and exemptions. (Kukkonen 2009) Management is a key issue in ageing-related issues at workplaces, whether inspected from the point of view of age management, management of diverse skills, or management of employees of different ages. Good age management is always about leading people of different ages by treating different-aged employees and employees at different stages of their careers as equal members of the work

8 community. It is also about supporting both work done together and the diverse work community itself. At this phase of life, ageing-related competence is, therefore, related to the questions of work ability, job retention, knowledge management and management of well-being, and organisational operations and management.

ACTIVE SENIORS AS A RESOURCE FOR COMMUNITIES Senior-age is a phase of life between retirement and old age. Fortunately, the duration of this phase is now longer than ever before. Seniors have many possibilities during this phase of life. They usually get along financially and live on their own. They want to participate and influence. Some seniors offer to babysit their grandchildren, someone else is engaged in voluntary work, and some seniors work for organisations or use their time travelling around the world. Many seniors also work as peer supporters for other older people. (e.g. Karisto 2004; Karisto 2008; Tedre et al. 2013; TOURage 2014). The active life of seniors and related well-being and health promotion activities at senior age will continue to bear fruit in the future. It can be seen later on in form of individual well-being and cost savings. Senior-aged people have both experience and knowledge, and often time as well. Their power and potential has not yet been fully understood. In addition to individual, personal well-being and health promotion, seniors’ resources also have communal importance in the neighbourhood, in the local community, and in villages and suburbs. Seniors also frequently work as peer supporters for other people at their age. These supporter roles are often organised by different associations, but also voluntary coordinators in the public

In addition to individual, personal well-being and health promotion, seniors’ resources also have communal importance in the neighbourhood, in the local community, and in villages and suburbs.

sector are becoming more common. The peer supporters of older people are in need of support for their work in guiding and supporting, both regarding the contents of the support provided (e.g. information technology guidance or instruction for physical activities) and receiving support themselves for working and coping in the role of a peer supporter. We do need to enable and support the relevant roles of seniors and to make it possible to create new roles and arenas.

NEED FOR SERVICES AT OLD AGE Old age is often characterised by the need for care and treatment services. Services are increasingly often being used at one’s own home. At this stage, there is often more loneliness, insecurity and a variety of diseases than at the earlier phases of one’s life.



10 Individuality and one’s own will do not, however, disappear and they cannot be forgotten at the old age either. Professionals must take special care of both of these aspects, even if a person is no longer able to defend and express himself. The objective of arranging the housing and services for old people at their homes raises many questions regarding the organisation of services, old people’s own will, security and welfare. Today, new intermediate phase housing solutions have already been modelled (e.g. Iäkkäiden yhteisöllinen asuminen maaseudulla 2013.). Today’s attitude signifies that the hospital and retirement homes are not real homes anymore. A person’s home is where he permanently lives and the services need to be brought there. North Karelia is characterised by long distances, which makes these questions more complex. How far away can the services be located from old people’s homes? How intense can the service at home be, if the person lives, say, 50 kilometres from the city centre? Does the home need to be moved or does the person need to move closer to the city centre to get the services at home? And the other way round, what if an old person living at home far away from the centre, is feeling insecure and lonely, can the system provide adequate housing options? The housing options for old people need to be realistic. As a consequence, we need new models for providing mobile services, either on wheels or online, that are commonly only available at city centres. However, all this needs to reach beyond only guaranteeing basic bodily functions and treatment of diseases. The variety of aspects to be considered in old people’s wellbeing does not fade away as people grow older. Old people need to have opportunities to go out and move around, and not only in form of possible weekly vehicle services to

In North Karelia, entrepreneurs in different fields have now realised the fact that they have more and more older people as their customers. The success of many enterprises may even be dependent on how they can meet the service needs of older people.

the city. (e.g. Lehtola 2013) Opportunities for interaction, both face-to-face and online, as well as opportunities to have meaningful roles are needed.

COMPETENCE IN AGEING IN BUSINESS LIFE In their book Suunnaton Suomi, Risto E.J. Penttilä and Alf Rehn (2012) raised a question on gerieconomy. According to the authors, gerieconomy contains enormous opportunities. The potential of older people as consumers and policy makers is still largely unfound. Similarly, older people’s knowledge, skills and experience could be utilised in more diverse ways than nowadays.


In North Karelia, entrepreneurs in different fields have now realised the fact that they have more and more older people as their customers. The success of many enterprises may even be dependent on how they can meet the service needs of older people. The project Ikäosaamisen ABC of Karelia University of Applied Sciences involved seven regional companies, including a bank, supermarket, bus company, household appliance store, and a fashion store, discussing the competence and development needs of businesses in an ageing province. Despite the differences in the area of business of these companies, common educational needs were discovered and educational activities were also piloted. The representatives of the companies


involved in the project considered it important to realise the extent of the influence of ageing of the population on the society. Another key learning experience was to discover the individual nature of ageing. Physical activities and memory-related questions were considered the most important, individual areas of expertise. A local memory association also participated in the project by providing the project participants with information on memory issues. As a result of the project, a small guide was compiled for companies, leading them towards becoming companies that can be considered competent in ageing-related issues (Jämsén 2013).

12 The concept of a company that is regarded competent in ageing-related issues is based on different aspects: older people’s needs and expectations, the expertise of the company, and the underlying attitudes towards ageing. Older people’s needs and expectations have not been considered in companies yet, but in most cases, the assumptions were merely based on stereotypes. A company that is regarded competent in ageing-related issues needs broad knowledge on ageing: What kind of a product or service offering best meets the needs of older people? How could older people be involved in the planning and development work? What is the best way to market the products or services to this group of customers? How are older people’s individuality and special needs taken into account in customer service? What about the premises of companies and their other operational environment, what kind of development needs do they have? Competence in ageing is needed as a background for these concrete development actions. On one hand, it is all about understanding the social and individual significance of ageing and the attitudes towards ageing and on the other hand, about identifying the related business potential.

CONCLUSION It seems that we are not yet able to fully read the signs of ageing of the population and see the meanings of ageing in the society. We need changes both in the attitudes and in the ways of thinking at all levels of the society. We need new ways of looking at older people, seeing them as diverse as they have been at the earlier phases of their lives. A Finnish poet Eeva Kilpi has once stated (2007) that it is a young girl who is looking through an old lady’s eyes - that look, it does not fade away, as one’s eyes will never grow old.

We also need new actors who are able to pay attention to older people. Let us take a hardware store as an example: Does the product range of the store include a sufficient variety of accessible facilities for homes that also look good, so that they can be used as part of the interior? Another example is a summer festival: What would attract older people to join the festival and how would it affect the event? Ilosaarirock in Joensuu is a good example of such an event, as people at the age of 60 or more got a free entrance in the festival a few years back. Since then, the festival received so many ageing visitors that the age limit had to, due to financial reasons, be raised up to 65 years. Areas characterised by long distances need more cooperation between different actors, more new partnerships. If there are only few municipal service users, customers of companies and actors in associations in some remote areas of a municipality are all faced with challenges from their own perspective: municipal home care uses a majority of its time for travelling to remote villages, the demand for a company’s services is low, and associations are in need of more active members. What could be done together, in a new, different way? One aspect towards the diversity of ageing is structuring the phases of ageing. The phase of life of ageing employees, seniors and old people differs significantly from each other. Here is an example from the field of old people’s care: an ageing employee can be employed by the care services and a senior-aged person can work there as a volunteer, as a peer supporter. And the old person is the user of these services himself. In the future, ageing phenomena should be viewed from more diverse perspectives than before, and on the other hand, more accurately. Ageing is not a one-dimensional


phenomenon. The diversity of the ageing population deserves to be better displayed (cf. Tedre et al. 2013). The ageing of the population will have an impact on the entire society, not only on social services and health care. It should also be noted that the diverse effects of ageing are also qualitative in nature. The old way of thinking concentrating on increasing costs should be rejected as such, since the new, positive potential should also be considered. At one point, older people may need a great deal of help and services, but they can also provide their expertise and support in return. Finland can have inspiring future development prospects in the field of ageing-related issues. Finland has at least one great advantage in this area of expertise: we have no lack of experienced experts in the field of ageing. We have older people.

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