The chal­lenge of an age­ing pop­u­la­tion

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

Dr Caru­ana is Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for the Rights of Peo­ple with Dis­abil­ity and Ac­tive Age­ing

Over and above the re­peated pos­i­tive sta­tis­tics and state­ments by in­ter­na­tional credit agen­cies, our peo­ple them­selves have ex­pe­ri­enced in real terms Labour’s suc­cess in the fields of fi­nance and the econ­omy. The bud­get for 2017 is in it­self proof that there has been a dili­gent se­quence of an­nual fi­nan­cial plans that has led to a solid na­tional pros­per­ity that is to be fur­ther shared by all – in­clud­ing the low-in­come earn­ers and pen­sion­ers – to fur­ther avoid cross­ing the poverty line for thou­sands of peo­ple.

Se­ri­ous crit­i­cism is wel­come

We have stated time and again that this gov­ern­ment does not ex­pect to be per­fect and is, in fact, al­ways open to var­ied views and con­struc­tive crit­i­cism. On var­i­ous is­sues we have mod­i­fied or changed our ap­proach and we have never shied away from cor­rec­tive mea­sures or al­ter­na­tives.

One thing is for sure, how­ever, we have never di­min­ished our fo­cus on lead­ing the na­tion to­wards a bet­ter stan­dard of liv­ing. I do not say this as po­lit­i­cal rhetoric or a way with words for par­ti­san gains. Like many oth­ers, I reg­u­larly meet fam­i­lies and – ir­re­spec­tive of their tra­di­tional party af­fil­i­a­tions – they con­firm that they are bet­ter off than they were three years ago.

From the start, de­liv­er­ing re­sults has been Labour’s re­sponse to all forms of neg­a­tive crit­i­cism. It has also been my way to si­lence base­less crit­i­cism, with an in­ner strength to never al­low it to af­fect my du­ties and ac­tions. No amount of fab­ri­cated hearsay or other threats have ever de­terred me from car­ry­ing out my du­ties. Un­war­ranted as it may be, such in­tim­i­da­tion can only en­hance and in­vig­o­rate my de­ter­mi­na­tion to forge ahead with what both sec­tors within my re­mit ex­pect of me and de­serve.

De­liv­er­ing is the best re­ply

This was, in fact, my ra­tio­nale in my two re­cent speeches in Par­lia­ment when de­bat­ing the per­for­mance of my Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tar­iat and that of the Gozo Min­istry. Need­less to say, a good part of crit­i­cism came by way of the ha­bit­ual cre­at­ing of moun­tains from mole­hills. Un­for­tu­nately, even when their crit­i­cism tended to make sense, it was ev­i­dent that the lethargy of past ad­min­is­tra­tions in both sec­tors turned into sour grapes over what we have achieved in such a short space of time.

Some peo­ple should know bet­ter: ef­fec­tive suc­cess is not achieved through pompous words or colour­ful prom­ises. The high­est ideals can never be re­alised by the au­thors of decades of vac­uum. Know­ing the job, ac­knowl­edg­ing the real facts, fac­ing the chal­lenge, con­sult­ing every­one in­volved and hav­ing the will-power to im­ple­ment the nec­es­sary mea­sures on time, are ba­si­cally what it takes to de­liver. The two im­por­tant ar­eas within my re­mit need ac­tion, where qual­ity sur­passes quan­tity at ev­ery stage.

From words to facts

The world’s pop­u­la­tion has never been as old and ma­ture as it is now. Cur­rently, the num­ber of peo­ple aged 60 and above world­wide is well over 800 mil­lion. Those aged 60 can now ex­pect to live for an­other 18 to 21 years and soon the world will have a higher num­ber of older adults than chil­dren. In Malta, last year 105,000 peo­ple – 25 per cent of Malta’s pop­u­la­tion – were aged 60 or more, while while in Gozo the per­cent­age is now even higher. The par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion of Gozo was raised this week by Gozo Bishop Mario Grech dur­ing his homily mark­ing Gozo Day.

Notwith­stand­ing Labour’s suc­cess in pro­vid­ing hun­dreds of new jobs for Goz­i­tans on their own is­land, through the tourism and other in­dus­tries, we can­not dis­re­gard the age-re­lated at­trac­tion on the part of young peo­ple to greater job op­por­tu­ni­ties in Malta and be­yond. Re­cent sta­tis­tics of the pop­u­la­tion in Malta and Gozo show that peo­ple un­der 18 ac­counted for 17.4 per cent of the to­tal, while a fur­ther 19 per cent were aged 65 and over. Of th­ese, 2,482 peo­ple – 1,754 women and 728 men – were 90 and over.

The fast-chang­ing de­mo­graphic pat­terns in­crease the chal­lenges – and op­por­tu­ni­ties – to the du­ties within my port­fo­lio. In such a re­al­ity, we ap­pre­ci­ate even more the na­tional pol­icy and strat­egy on ac­tive ag­ing that we have pur­sued th­ese past three years. In the mean­time we have im­ple­mented, within set time­frames, var­i­ous pro­jects and we are al­ways mon­i­tor­ing how we can im­prove what we have done and look­ing ahead to new initiatives.

The wide ar­ray of ser­vices in­tro­duced in Gozo for the very first time ad­dresses the needs of an age­ing pop­u­la­tion. We are also trans­form­ing a chal­lenge into op­por­tu­ni­ties – cre­at­ing hun­dreds of jobs on the is­land in the care of the el­derly sec­tor. This is also en­cour­ag­ing the pri­vate sec­tor to in­vest in ser­vices in Gozo for the first time, which will en­sure a con­tin­u­a­tion of ser­vice pro­vi­sion in the years to come.

Health and so­cial sol­i­dar­ity

It is a fact that older adults face spe­cial health chal­lenges. Many of the very old lose the abil­ity to live in­de­pen­dently be­cause of lim­ited mo­bil­ity, frailty or other phys­i­cal or men­tal health is­sues and re­quire some form of long-term care. To­gether with our pro­grammes in the field of ac­tive age­ing, we are equally com­mit­ted to deal­ing with the health as­pects. Our ac­tions among the el­derly de­fine the very rea­son why the port­fo­lio in re­spect of the el­derly was re­moved from the Health Min­istry to that of So­cial Sol­i­dar­ity. De­spite this in­tel­li­gent move, how­ever, one sec­tor does not ex­clude the other.

A case in point is the com­mu­nity ser­vices de­liv­ered by the Depart­ment for Ac­tive Age­ing and Com­mu­nity Care where we will also shortly be ad­min­is­ter­ing the anti-in­fluenza in­jec­tion to those who are bed-bound. Sim­i­lar co­op­er­a­tion can also be seen in the var­i­ous pro­fes­sional up­grades in med­i­cal ser­vices that we have in­tro­duced at St Vin­cent de Paul long-term care fa­cil­ity.

An­other in­ter­est­ing ini­tia­tive re­lates to the Falls Aware­ness Cam­paigns and this week a group of around 50 older peo­ple at­tend­ing the Ac­tive Age­ing in Xewk­ija, Gozo com­pleted a course and were awarded a cer­tifi­cate. The course was de­liv­ered by al­lied health and other geri­atric pro­fes­sion­als with the aim of rais­ing aware­ness on the need to be more health-con­scious, to avoid falls and to strengthen mus­cles and im­prove bal­ance with the ul­ti­mate goal of a health­ier life.

De­men­tia ba­sic aware­ness is

De­men­tia is an­other in­creas­ing re­al­ity we have been han­dling over the past year. As well as im­prov­ing aware­ness of this con­di­tion, we have moved on to pro­fes­sional train­ing for car­ers, have pro­cured ad­di­tional beds for de­men­tia suf­fer­ers and – par­tic­u­larly in Gozo – opened day-care and respite homes and es­tab­lished mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary in­ter­ven­tion teams in Malta and Gozo. The bud­get 2017 will en­able us to ex­pand such pro­jects and pro­vide for respite ser­vices for car­ers within the com­mu­nity.

On a pos­i­tive note, only last Thurs­day I read an in­ter­est­ing re­port in the UK me­dia on what has been called “an Alzheimer’s drug to suc­cess­fully tar­get the most vis­i­ble signs of the dis­ease, rais­ing hopes that an ef­fec­tive treat­ment could be fi­nally within reach.” How­ever en­cour­ag­ing such a re­port may be, one should be very cau­tious, know­ing that renowned med­i­cal ex­perts have warned that they are “ea­gerly await­ing the re­sults of fur­ther clin­i­cal tri­als, as it is pre­ma­ture to spec­u­late, how­ever pos­i­tive the first re­sults are.”

In car­ry­ing out my du­ties, I not only con­sider the im­me­di­ate tasks my Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tar­iat un­der­takes, but see be­yond the im­me­di­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties to iden­tify and pro­vide ev­ery­thing that we can do in re­spect of those who need and de­serve fur­ther sup­port. Af­ter all, the fair so­ci­ety we are build­ing will never be com­plete if we rest on our lau­rels in re­spect of the re­sults achieved, but only if we seek fur­ther ways of im­prov­ing our per­for­mance and de­liv­ery.

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