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Older People Matter: Achieving Sustainable Development

October 29 2018 - by Dr. Audrey Gittens, Lecturer in the Caribbean School of Nursing, University of Technology, Jamaica and an Alumna of CLP's Leadership Development Programme

Demographic transition and aging have been the subject of discussion over the decades.  There has been the development of policies to address the myriad of issues which confronts governments, organizations and societies. The United Nations informed that the aging population is a significant social transformation of the 21st century due to its impact on all sectors of society.  Some of the challenges specific to aging and the demographic transition include:

  • The inability to maintain independence
  • Inadequate integration of health care services to manage the increased prevalence of chronic diseases
  • The lack of a voice on social issues specific to the needs of older people

The United Nations has placed aging on its spectrum of the 2030 sustainable development agenda.  There is a call for aging to be viewed beyond the narrow lenses of diseases, treatment and vulnerability, and to take into consideration the fact that older people are active participants in social development. In other words, the call is to focus on the positive contribution of aging and its inclusiveness in social developmental strategies. 

It is projected that there will be significant increase in healthcare costs for older people by 2025, making it an economic risk. This conclusion may be true, but it is grossly biased when the cost for care of older persons is not compared to the cost of care for other age cohorts. Consideration can be given to an integrated primary approach, involving all sectors, with emphasis on the social sector and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). 

Older people are vital assets in the transmission of values, skills, and the promotion of strong families and communities.  Their participation will increase their social, physical and mental health.  An integrated approach to the aging population will also be in alignment with Sustainable Development Goal 3:“Ensuring healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”.

It cannot be denied that attempts to address issues of older people have been made.  In Jamaica, for example, policies such as the National Policy for Senior Citizens, National Registry for Senior Citizens and the Drug for the Elderly Programme have been developed.  The question is, are these organizations synchronous in meeting the needs of older people, or, do they operate in silos?

There is a need to eradicate the general societal apathy regarding the usefulness of older people.  There is a plethora of data on the health and social cost for older persons and sparse on their economic contribution to nations. Older people can and do make economic contributions. In the United Kingdom, persons, 65 years and older are expected to contribute £77 billion by 2030.  It will be interesting to see a comparative analysis for the cost of care for persons 65 years and older versus the cost of care for persons under 65 years who are living with conditions such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, hypertension, cancers and other chronic conditions.

The manner in which information concerning older people is shared, is a contributor to the negative perception held by the society about aging.  When the cost of caring for conditions of older people is referred to as “an economic risk”, without a clarifying clause of the contribution of older people, it promotes ageism. Instead of the constant and possibly unintended negative promotion of the challenges of older people, the positive aspects should be highlighted.  Persons responsible for policy development and matters pertaining to older people must demonstrate that aging is integral to sustainable development.  Aging is not a liability; it is an asset with challenges just as the younger age groups have peculiar challenges.  It is time we stop stereotyping our older folks, respect their contribution and act on integrative policies towards the goal of sustainable development.

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Nadine Sookwa - Reply

Timely.  There are many citizens being 'sandwiched' having to bear caring for parents and children - more support is definitely needed to help the aged in transitioning to the information society and being able to use the advantages of this era to assure their independence.