Thursday, April 18, 2024

EDITORIAL: Planning for ageing society


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CHANCELLOR OF THE University of the West Indies Sir George Alleyne delivered a thought-provoking Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture last week in which he called on us to think on how our society should look at the question of the ageing population.

He disclosed that the 80-plus age group is the fastest growing section of the population and suggested that more ideas on how to manage ageing are needed.

It has been obvious for sometime that our people are living longer, and we applaud Sir George for having raised this important issue in the context of the 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations, because the benign neglect of the core health issues in pre-independence times has given way to an active and progressive system of health care, since then.

It is also true that improved social and economic conditions in the past half-century have assisted materially in raising and sustaining the level of health care for the people of this country, and the system of polyclinics has also been a major factor in this exercise.

We think Sir George was on very firm foundation when he invited his audience to question the notion that productivity ends at the age of 65. In an era when life expectancy for males was 63 years as at Independence, a retirement age of 65 or 60 was understandable.

Nowadays, even a casual look through the obituary pages of local newspapers shows that very many of our citizens from across a broad spectrum of the society are surviving into their 80s and 90s before they are victims of the grim reaper. What is more, many of them were, in their later years, active, cognitively competent, and still very much capable of giving the country the benefit of their vast knowledge, tempered naturally by the wisdom of their years.

It would be unwise to waste such a resource but it seems that ageism prevents some of these elders from continuing to play an active, if reduced, part in the life of our country.

That is why we agree with Sir George’s point that the belief that productivity ends at 65 must be questioned, since it seems to us that we do tend to write off people at that age and sometimes before that age. It is often said that life begins at 40, and perhaps we should regard the age of 65 as the new 40.

We support Sir George’s concern that there are laudable recommendations contained in the National Policy on Ageing issued by Government in 2012, and we also are in agreement with his further concern  about the capacity to put into effect the wide-ranging suggestions which have been made. He cites the input of human and financial resources which are in short supply everywhere.

But apart from his specific concerns we are all aware of the notorious implementation deficit which plagues some aspects of our public administration. Often, getting things done is not our national strong point, and the best of plans may be stillborn.

Nevertheless, ageing is an issue which will not go away, and as the problem continues to develop with many more people living past the Biblical three score and ten, and in good health; adequate forward planning is necessary to address the economic and other aspects of this fast growing section of the population, and also to ensure that older persons are not stigmatised nor suffer discrimination simply by reason of age.


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