A MAJOR topic of concern raised during our stint as a member of the Asia-Pacific Alliance of YMCAs and eventually as an executive council member of the World Alliance of YMCAs was the ageing population of many countries worldwide.
So fast is the growth of the ageing population that health and social services of countries are stretched to accommodate the growing number of frail and vulnerable people who now face competition over the declining resources of governments that are also grappling with the demand of financing the increasing number of pensioners.
That has been a concern for more than a decade and a half and to this day remains a concern.
The ageing population starts with those who are 65 years old and over while current average life expectancy is at 80 years old for men and 86.2 years for women. Coupled with low fertility rates at 8.8 births per 1,000 heads of population, the world is leading towards an increasingly top-heavy population model, according to studies that we have been reading here in Barcelona. Many countries have raised the age of retirement, the latest of which was France, where ageing population concerns had something to do with ensuing violent public protests. The consequence on public services for a society beset with an ageing population is that its government will have to face the challenges of higher spending commitments combined with fewer contributions to social security schemes, a shrinking workforce, and large numbers of people in need of state support.
The increase in the number of senior citizens plus the impact of the demographic shift on the rest of society is also linked with the economic crisis – cuts in public and private funding to the health care system, freezing of pensions, general impoverishment of the population, and impact on the life of the elderly.
In Barcelona, because of its large ageing population, about a quarter thereof, the risk of social exclusion and isolation of its senior citizens is increased. The pensioner with an average retirement pay cannot afford to hire help for home care. Another example is where once before it would only take a day to wait for a citizen seeking an appointment with a designated family doctor for consultation, it would now take about a week because of the numerous requests for an appointment.
For an operation, it would take more than two months, except for extreme emergency cases, whereas before one would only have to wait for about two weeks at the most. Even calling for an ambulance, the waiting time could take an hour. Good if the seniors can afford costly private insurance where they can be attended to as needed.
The Dependency Law (Ley de la Dependencia) was enacted years ago in order to improve the quality of life for those in a situation of dependency due to disability, illness, or advanced age by providing these dependents with funds for home care. But with today’s increased number of dependents, the finance home assistance fund has been spread thinly and the government has yet no recourse for replenishment as budget cuts actually impede the realization of the purpose.
About 26 percent of the elderly are living alone in Barcelona and only a few can afford alternative living conditions. As a consequence, some suffer from loneliness, isolation, and only sporadic contact with family members. The Red Cross has devised the “Emergency Home Alarm” system which is available to elderly or disabled people in need of home monitoring. A person wears a pendant around his neck and presses it in case of emergency. This then automatically activates their phone, contacting the monitoring centre on their behalf to summon for help.
In the Philippines, most senior citizens are fortunate that they can still rely on their children who take them into their homes and care for them, which is a custom deeply rooted in the Filipino tradition. The elderly pensioner can, in turn, give a share to the family budget, assist in child care and look after grandchildren, like picking them up from school, so parents can continue working and avoid exorbitant child care costs.
There is a lot to learn from the experiences of other countries to prepare for this ageing population concern. Of course, the natural thing to do is to give an answer to the common question of the elderly, especially retirees: “What else in life is there left for me to do?”
Other than the elderlies who have laid out plans for the remainder of their lives and have enough or even more than enough to maintain a good quality of life and have maintained positive mental attitudes of the world, the government, hand-in-hand with civic-socially oriented organizations, must develop a sustainable program that will involve the active participation of the elderlies in neighbourhood associations, alternative movements, civic centres; perhaps including involvement in protests on economic inequalities of today by recalling the same fervour of old political struggles from the past.
We see them everywhere, the “laioflautas” or “grandpa tramps” all over Spain and Europe.