Geriatric care: Towards a happier and brighter silver age
Sri Lanka has one of the most rapidly aging populations in the world. At present, the over- 60 population is 12.5 percent and is projected to increase to 25 percent in 2041. While it took 115 years in France and 85 years in Sweden for the population over 65 years to increase from 7 percent to 14 percent, this increase is predicted to occur in Sri Lanka in just 23 years. The rapid increase in the elderly population, however, is taking place without a major change in the infrastructure and per capita level of income. Thus, Sri Lanka will need a spectacular rate of economic growth to provide healthcare services for this rapidly aging population.
In this context, the long- term care of the elderly will need the development of long- term care facilities in addition to the existing hospitals. It is difficult for the elderly to travel far for treatment; thus physiotherapy and other services need to be available at community level. Improving accessibility to such services through the development of community health services is needed, as also the location of rehabilitation institutions closer to their homes. They also need a social security mechanism which will ensure health care for them. No insurance policy covers the elderly, as the age limit for most policies is 55. Thus, financial constraints during old age make them dependent on their children who may already be having difficulties with expenses incurred by their own children. This burden could cause a strain on the relationship between children and their parents. As such, it is important to find a mechanism through which elders could be provided financial support.
At present, the long-term care of the elderly is mostly done by the extended family which is an asset. Patients are being discharged prematurely due to pressure of beds and high turnover in hospital wards, while time and space are not available for a patient needing rehabilitation in