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Jamaica Urged to Prepare for Increase in Ageing Population

Published:Friday | October 9, 2015 | 10:00 AM

The World Health Organization (WHO) world report on ageing and health has projected that the world population over 60 is set to double by 2050.

The report, which was released on October 1, a day celebrated as the International Day for Older Persons, called for major societal changes to deal with the fact that people are living longer lives.

According to the report: "The population of the Americas is among the world's oldest. In 2006, there were 50 million older adults in the region, and that number is expected to double by 2025, and again by 2050, when one in four people in the Americas will be over 60 (globally, the proportion will be one in five).

"Currently, the country with the oldest population in the region is Canada. However, projections based on data from the UN Population Division indicate that in less than a decade, the older population in countries such as Barbados, Cuba, and Martinique will surpass Canada's," the report said.

Closer home, the leading authority on ageing and an unwavering advocate for the elderly, Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer, has called for systems to be put in place to effectively deal with the increase in the ageing population in Jamaica.

Using data from the 2011 census, Eldemire-Shearer showed that the growth of the 60s population is faster than any other segment and has been taking place now for several decades. These findings were chronicled in her 2012 study of 2,943 persons over the age of 60.

In an emailed response to The Gleaner, the expert on ageing explained some of the factors driving the increase in the ageing population in Jamaica.

"Factors include the decrease in fertility. Also, family size has been decreasing consistently since the 1960s," she said. She also cited the decrease in mortality at all ages as well as migration of the working-age population, and an increase in returning residents aged over 60 as reasons why the population is aging.

demographic shift

In light of the demographic shift that is taking place, Eldemire-Shearer is calling for greater emphasis to be placed on health services for the elderly.

"More is needed in the area of reduction of non-communicable diseases. There is need to prevent hypertension and diabetes as these are the major causes of poor health in older persons," she said.

Eldemire-Shearer contends that an area of increasing need, which is not being met, is community-based long-term care.

"There are residential facilities, but people prefer home, so supports are needed to help families care. Not all older persons need health services, so social services, like meals, home help, and social activities (are necessary). Dementia will increasingly be an issue and dementia services are increasingly being needed," she added

For Eldemire-Shearer, pension coverage is the biggest concern. Her 2012 study revealed that 60.5 per cent of respondents she interviewed had no pension.