Thu | Apr 26, 2018

Ageing woes - Elderly ignoring warnings as medical bill to treat them climbs

Published:Sunday | July 24, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Senior citizens being treated in downtown Kingston.

It is costing the country more than $10 billion each year to treat the health woes of members of the elderly population, and this could increase sharply as many persons over 70 years old are not responding to the messages advocating a healthy lifestyle because they either do not understand them or they simply don’t care.

Among those who have expressed some concern is one of Jamaica’s most vocal advocates for the elderly and head of the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre at the University of the West Indies, Professor Denise Eldemire-Shearer.

“It’s the group that’s costing us the most money in the public system and the private system in terms of health care,” Eldemire-Shearer told The Sunday Gleaner, as she argued that many elderly persons ignore the health warning because they have reached their “three score and 10”.

“They feel, you know, that they are invincible and they have lived out their lives, but the message we want to get across now is about the quality of life, and there is no point being 80 if you have had a stroke and you are bedridden. We want you at 80, even if you have high blood pressure, to be able to walk around and make ends meet for yourself,” said Eldemire-Shearer.

A community-based study that was funded by the National Health Fund and carried out by the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre has found that medical care for a senior citizen in 2011 was $83,000, compared to $25,000 for the average population.

According to the study, the filling of prescriptions for the elderly amounted to $3.3 billion, while it costs $5.3 billion for laboratory investigations, $996 million for hospitalisation and $774 for outpatient consultations.

While the study, which was completed last year, has not yet been published in its entirety, sections of it have been carried in several international peer review journals.

The findings were recently presented to the Ministry of Health for consideration, and it is hoped that this will help to inform policies geared towards improving the wellbeing of the elderly.


Dr Kathryn Mitchell-Fearon, who contributed to the study, noted that the cost to treat the elderly is now much more than it was in 2011.

“It’s really expensive and it is only going to get worse, so unless we tackle the root causes and try and prevent the condition in the first place, it is really going to be at a detriment to our health system,” said Mitchell-Fearon.

With more than 300,000 Jamaicans being over the age of 60, the country is being urged to put the necessary measures in place to meet the needs of an ageing population.

However, Eldemire-Shearer is concerned that many of the messages geared towards getting the society healthier cannot be understood by the elderly.

“They are not going to be able to assimilate a lot of it. Remember, this is an age group with 72 per cent still primary-school education only.”

According to the study, one in every 10 senior citizen has hearing problems, 32 per cent have visual disability, and over seven per cent have motor disability. Added to this is the fact that pain and illness present a barrier to exercising for some. More than 76 per cent of them also have one chronic disease such as hypertension, arthritis or diabetes.


Jamaica's ageing challenges


- By 2025 will be 25% of the population will be elderly

- Most Jamaicans will live at least 20 years after retirement

- 32.9% of Jamaica's elderly population are single

- 17.3% of Jamaica's elderly lived alone; more females than males

- Most elderly Jamaicans (92.6%) have children, however up to 50% of the children lived abroad.

- Family is main source of income for 49.5% of Jamaica's elderly

- Up to 60% of Jamaica's elderly population have no pension

- Nearly 45% of Jamaica's elderly population have some difficulties walking distances, standing, climbing stairs, carrying things

- 76.4% had at least one chronic disease

Source - Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre