Vulnerable group suffering from neglect
As Jamaica's senior-citizen population continues to rise due to higher life expectancy, stakeholders are calling for the Government to pay closer attention to the needs of this vulnerable segment in the western region before it is too late.
According to the last population census, the greatest increase in the over-60-year-old population is in persons 80 years and older. The over-60 age group increased by 15.26 per cent while the over-80 age group increased by 20.77 per cent.
Elaine Bradley, a retired intensive-care nurse, who recently turned 70, told Western Focus that she was appalled at the less-than-adequate attention being paid to the well-being of seniors.
"We are forgotten citizens, so we have to fight our own battles. Look, even in Negril, at the sidewalk that has been put in. It's more or less finished and I haven't seen any ramps yet for wheelchair people," said Bradley. "There is not even a community centre programme where old people can go and mix with each other.
"Nobody is studying gerontology, so the old people are just cast aside. People are getting older, their brains don't function, and yet they have all this paperwork. All these things to fill out to get access to anything. I don't think enough is being done, especially in the west," added Bradley.
The retired nurse said a huge segment of the Jamaican population might not enjoy a high quality of life in their old age, particularly if they are afflicted with age-related mental illnesses as there is no programme targeting the training of geriatric specialists in the island.
"It is going to have a disastrous effect if we do not put things in place now," stated Bradley. "A lot of people advocate that nursing assistants, who are not really trained per se, be the ones who mainly work in geriatrics. In old age, you lose your faculties, so you need people who are understanding, who are au fait with the psychology of the aged, and all that. There needs to be a whole training programme to do that. That's the way a lot of the First World countries have moved."
"If you should check, in England, they have a lot of people who say, 'When I get to my pension age, I am coming home to Jamaica.' They look at that because they will have sunshine and they can be outdoors all the time rather than be closeted inside and they don't have to suffer from the cold.
"Nobody is catering for these people (who are) coming back. Right now, a lot of people are going back to England in their older age for treatment because there is nothing in place for them," she lamented.
GROOMING PERSONS FOR OLD AGE
Pastor of the Hopewell Missionary Church Ronald Webster told Western Focus that his church has been grooming young persons from now, to prepare for their later phase of life. He said his church has programmes for the elderly who are paid weekly visits and provided with medication where needed.
"I know that there are many churches that currently have senior citizens clubs on one level. We do work very closely with National Council Senior for Citizens to see how we can address some of those issues relating to the aged," he said.
"In relation to financial planning and retirement planning, we have sought to work with credit unions, and so on, to come in and make presentations to them with regard to planning for the future ... because we do understand that more than 60 per cent of our aged people don't have retirement pensions," he said.
Webster said that unlike earlier years, the elderly appear to be no longer viewed by many Jamaicans as valuable but as burdensome.
"In the Western culture, we tend to put the aged in a home ... We are going to have to go back and teach our young people about ageing and what is going to be required when one has aged," he said.