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The ageing population


By Florangel Rosario Braid

A recent exchange of views on Facebook on this subject between a colleague, esteemed political scientist Clarita Carlos, and her FB friends, showed that the ageing population appears to be a neglected sector in many parts of the world. In a recent visit to Malta where she attended a training program for people who minister to the needs of old people who have no family to take care of them, Claire observed the growing number of old patients with Alzheimer or advanced dementia. During a visit to one of these homes, she was shocked with what she saw. One was a hall where faded pictures of family members were pasted on the walls which only elicited no reaction from the patients who had lost their memory. She said that the experience moved her to tears.

Claire is one of the ardent advocates for policy reforms on the ageing population. One respondent said that caring for chronically ill folks like them require special skills and there are not enough of the latter. Thus, government must provide that kind of leadership and skills. Higher education through the Commission on Higher Education and the Professional Regulatory Commission can provide the policy reforms on needed programs that would encourage more research that would expand knowledge in this field. The health issue of the ageing requires policy intervention not merely by giving 20 percent senior discounts, says another medical specialist.

Sometime ago, I did a google search of homes and centers that provide support to senior citizens in terms of a comprehensive health care program, but there were very few that can be classified as comprehensive. Even our modern hospitals do not yet have enough human resources to cater to the needs of the growing ageing population.

But it is not only the plight of the severely impaired and helping ageing population which requires study and policy support. There is a population of senior citizens – aged 60 and above who, although retired, can be a rich resource of skills and knowledge that our society needs. Having worked all their lives, many of them feel that they have to do more than the usual baby sitting for grandchildren, playing mahjong, or waiting in cinema halls for free movie shows, and enjoying the perks of senior citizen discounts. They want to participate, want their voices to be counted in decision-making, to contribute their skills in improving the life of their community.

A club to which I belong – Sunshine Place – is a private initiative. Located at Jupiter Street in Makati, it is one such place that provides recreation – physical, intellectual, spiritual, and cultural, through several activities jointly planned with the management. These include creative writing, painting, dancing, exercises, meditation, a shibashi, and special talks on topics that are relevant to seniors. A center such as this can be multiplied all over the country, each tailored to the specific needs of the population in the area.

There are special residences aimed at providing a planned inter-generational environment and which caters to needs of seniors but not limited to the aged. It would have various age groups but planned in such a way that its architecture and activities would bring about a more harmonious relationship between generations.

Having said that, let me further underscore the need for policy and public support that would encourage seniors with special talents to venture into innovations and “breakthrough” activities. Because of their experience, they have that discernment that is valuable in governance and other forms of decision-making.

An example is a story of a retired 76-year-old which was shared by a friend. Barbara Simons, a computer scientist, a leader of a group called Verified Voting, believes that there is only one safe voting technology – paper. She believes that the electronic systems are “hackable.” She wrote articles and a book and nagged policy makers, fought with groups the League of Women Voters and other organizations that endorsed paperless voting, largely on the ground that the electronic system offered greater access to voters with disabilities. As a computer scientist, she understood the vulnerability of voting equipment in a way most election officials do not. At first, she was scorned and laughed at. But, her group grew in numbers as people started taking them more seriously. Verified Voting insists accountability by requiring more standardized voting systems that insist on solid security and frequent audits of hardware and software. And they say that there is no malware that can attack paper. And it is portable and verifiable. Today, out of eight European countries that have experimented with electronic voting, six had reverted back to paper.

Another colleague from Spain who is in his late 60s, has a project – setting up “political clubs” where the seeds of “direct democracy” and the “classical republic” as a form of governance can be planted. The principles of annual rotation of executive offices, and equal participation of men and women, and other features of traditional republicanism, will characterize this structure of organization that can be applied in both government and private sectors.

The idea of tapping the ageing population as a resource in national and global governance should perhaps be examined more critically by planners of our society.

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