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THE NEXT 50 YEARS - Take better care of the elderly

Published:Monday | November 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica continues to celebrate 50 years of Independence. We have achieved a lot. However, there is much work left to be done if we are to progress as a country. We must begin to tackle Jamaica's chronic problems in a targeted and sustained way to make this country a better place to live, work and grow families. The Next 50 Years, a special Gleaner series, will spotlight some of the challenges we must fix in the coming years. We want to hear from you. Email us at and join the debate.

TODAY'S OLDER generation gives new meaning to the terms '50 and fabulous'. In fact, these days it's more like 70 and fabulous. The ageing of the population has come with both gains and new challenges. Back in the day, people referred to their children as 'pension', since they (especially daughters) were expected to stay home and take care of ageing parents.

But things have changed. The telephone and Internet now keep families close. There are times, however, when older persons need physical help. This creates an opportunity for the development of community support services to help older persons stay functionally independent.

Another issue facing older persons is the challenge of maintaining financial independence. Many seniors struggle to live on savings, especially since health costs rise later in life. Pension coverage is low for today's seniors. Contribution to pension coverage other than the NIS remains at the same level as it was in the 1960s. This requires pension reform, including compulsory contribution and portability.

As we move into the next 50 years, more is needed to ensure that older persons are viewed as important in the development process of the country. Jamaica, unlike many developing countries, does have a National Policy for older persons; there are government and private sector services, so there is the foundation.

Eating habits have changed. Fast food is in and good 'old time' cooking is out. So despite the increase in access to health care, older persons today have more chronic diseases. We must teach persons of all ages about making healthy lifestyle choices.

Family and other support relationships will need community support services to be able to maintain especially the very old in the family unit. Also, pensions and finance issues will need to be addressed at the national level.