Im­prove con­di­tions for the el­derly


Ev­ery­one ages. So does a pop­u­la­tion. Pop­u­la­tion ag­ing is a term used to ex­plain the pe­riod when the de­mo­graphic makeup of a so­ci­ety ex­pe­ri­ences a shrink­ing num­ber of chil­dren and youth, and a ris­ing pro­por­tion of peo­ple aged 60 and older. The growth of the el­derly age bracket in a so­ci­ety is gen­er­ally the re­sult of an im­prove­ment of peo­ple’s health and wel­fare.

All coun­tries ex­pe­ri­ence pop­u­la­tion ag­ing at a dif­fer­ent pace. This process is slower in de­vel­oped and in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­tries than in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. It took France longer than a cen­tury to dou­ble the pro­por­tion of 65 plus (from 7 per­cent to 14 per­cent). In Swe­den and Aus­tralia such a state was reached in 60 years.

As a con­trast, in Sin­ga­pore, Brazil and In­done­sia the pop­u­la­tion of the el­derly dou­bled within 20 years. Hav­ing a longer time to age, de­vel­oped coun­tries were able to ad­just their so­cial and eco­nomic fab­ric and lifestyle to the new situ- ation. De­vel­op­ing coun­tries have lit­tle time to pre­pare them­selves for fac­ing the con­se­quences of an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.

De­cline of Fer­til­ity and Drop of Births

The ac­cep­tance of fam­ily plan­ning as a gov­ern­ment pol­icy in many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries lead­ing to the rapid de­cline of fer­til­ity and the drop in the av­er­age num­ber of births per woman is the lead­ing cause of this de­mo­graphic phe­nom­e­non. The pro­por­tion of youth di­min­ishes, lead­ing to more adults and el­derly cit­i­zens. More­over, im­prove­ment in peo­ple’s health due to bet­ter ac­cess to health care and the de­cline in the mor­tal­ity rate lengthen life ex­pectancy and fa­cil­i­tate a pop­u­la­tion ag­ing process. The num­ber of cen­te­nar­i­ans will con­tinue to rise.

Bet­ter fe­male ed­u­ca­tion fa­cil­i­tates the global progress of fam­ily plan­ning achieve­ments and the de­cline of mor­tal­ity, although in a num­ber of coun­tries (i.e. in Africa and Mid­dle East) the fer­til­ity is still rel­a­tively high (more than five chil­dren per woman).

Dur­ing the ag­ing tran­si­tion the pop­u­la­tion struc­ture shifts slowly but steadily from a pre­dom­i­nantly young (pyra­mid shaped) to a mostly el­derly (bar­rel shaped) pro­file.

In a tran­si­tion pe­riod many changes hap­pen that may cre­ate com­mo­tion and re­sis­tance. Politi­cians, sci­en­tists, in­di­vid­u­als and so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions need to con­tin­u­ously adapt to changes in lifestyles and the so­cial fab­ric. Peo­ple will be con­fronted with more el­derly peo­ple with slower rhythm in their daily lives. Older peo­ple need as­sis­tance with their mo­bil­ity. They wear cer­tain styles of cloth­ing, like dif­fer­ent kinds of mu­sic and en­ter­tain­ment and de­mand a stronger voice in pol­i­tics. In the Nether­lands, for ex­am­ple, a po­lit­i­cal party rep­re­sent­ing cit­i­zens of 50-plus years old has won a seat in the par­lia­ment and se­nate.

The tran­si­tion will end when a coun­try has reached a sta­ble pop­u­la­tion i.e. a state wherein the pop­u­la­tion growth rate and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween age groups have sta­bi­lized over time. Wor­ries over the bur­den of a fluc­tu­at­ing pop­u­la­tion will then be a thing of the past. The ra­tio of youth (un­der 15) and el­derly (60/65 plus) com­pared with the work­ing-age group will re­main un­changed.

Suit­able Hous­ing and Ameni­ties

Are de­vel­op­ing coun­tries in­clud­ing In­done­sia ready to face a rapidly grow­ing num­ber of el­derly peo­ple in a chang­ing so­ci­ety? Real ac­tion needs to be taken in de­liv­er­ing pro­vi­sions such as suit­able hous­ing and its ameni­ties, read­ing glasses, hear­ing aids, wheel­chairs and crutches to the aged from all strata and ar­eas, not only the happy few in ur­ban ar­eas.

To im­prove el­derly peo­ple’s mo­bil­ity, free lo­cal trans­porta­tion should be or­ga­nized to take them to the mar­ket or shop­ping area, and to help main­tain so­cial con­tact among their peers and with younger peo­ple. Pro­vi­sion of de­cent and ac­ces­si­ble am­bu­la­tory health fa­cil­i­ties is es­sen­tial to serve the peo­ple in iso­lated ar­eas such as on moun­tain slopes and on re­mote is­lands.

As In­done­sia still has some 22 mil­lion chil­dren be­low five years old but is al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion, In­done­sians ought to bet­ter un­der­stand the needs and con­di­tions to cre­ate ac­cept­able and pleas­ant liv­ing ar­range­ments and ac­com­mo­da­tion for the el­derly. A shift in the peo­ple’s mind­set is re­quired, from the ear­lier em­pha­sis on chil­drea­r­ing, to en­hanc­ing our care of the el­derly. The writer is an economist­de­mog­ra­pher, re­sid­ing in The Nether­lands.

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