May 24, 2024

A major topic of concern during our stint as a member of the Asia-Pacific Alliance of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and eventually as an executive council member of the World Alliance of YMCAs, was about the ageing population of many countries in the world.
So fast is the growth of the ageing population that health and social services of countries are stretched to accommodate the growing number of frail and vulnerable people who now face competition over the declining resources of governments, which is also challenged with the increasing demands of financing pensioners. That was a concern more than a decade and a half ago and this concern remains up to the present.
The ageing population starts with those who are 65 years old and over, and with life expectancy having reached 80 years for men and 86.2 years for women, coupled with low fertility rates at 8.8 births per 1,000 heads of population, the world is heading towards an increasingly top-heavy population model, according to studies that we have been reading here in Barcelona, Spain.
It is observed that many countries have, in fact, raised the age of retirement, the latest of which is France where a government policy that had have something to do with ageing population concerns action led to violent public protests.
The consequence on public services for a society beset with an ageing population is that governments face challenges of higher spending commitments combined with fewer contributions to social security schemes, shrinking workforce and large numbers of people in need of state support.
The increase in the number of senior citizens plus the impact of the demographic shift on the rest of society is also linked with the economic crisis. Cuts in public and private funding to the health care system, freezing on pensions, general impoverishment of the population, impact on the life of the elderly.
In Barcelona, a pensioner with an average retirement pay cannot afford to hire a help for home care. With its large ageing population, about a quarter thereof, the risk of social exclusion and isolation of its senior citizens is increased. Thus, for example, where once before a citizen seeks for an appointment with a designated family doctor for consultation, it would only take a day to wait but now, it could take a week because of the numerous requests for an appointment.
For an operation, it will take more than two months except in extreme emergency cases, whereas before it took only about two weeks at the most. Even calling for an ambulance, the waiting time could take an hour. Good if the seniors can afford a costly private insurance where they can be attended as needed.
The Dependency Law was enacted years ago to improve the quality of life in a situation of dependency due to disability, illness, or advanced age by providing these dependents with funds for home care, but with the increased number of dependents, the finance home assistance fund has been spread thinly and no replenishment could be sourced out by government and budget cuts is impeding the realization of the purpose.
About 26 percent of elderlies are living alone in Barcelona and few could afford alternative living conditions, as a consequence. Some suffer from loneliness, isolation, and only sporadic contact with family members.
The Red Cross devised the “Emergency Home Alarm” system which is available to elderly or disabled people who are in need of home monitoring. A person wears a pendant around his neck and presses it in case of emergency. This then automatically activates their phone, contacting the monitoring center on their behalf and summoning help.
In the Philippines, most senior citizens are fortunate they can still rely on their children who take them into their homes and care for them, which is a Filipino custom. The elderly pensioner could, in turn, give its share to the family budget, assist in child care and even picking up grandchildren so parents can continue working and avoid exorbitant child care costs.
There are a lot to learn from experiences of other countries to prepare for this ageing population concern. Of course, the natural thing to do is to answer a common question of the elderlies, especially retirees: “What else in life is there for me to do?”
Other than the elderlies who have laid out plans for the remainder of their lives and have enough or more than enough to maintain their quality of life and have maintained positive mental attitudes, the government, hand in hand with socio-civic-oriented organizations must develop a sustainable program to involve the elderlies towards active involvement in neighborhood associations, alternative movements, civic centers, including involvement in protests on economic inequalities of today by recalling the same fervor of political struggles from the past like the “laioflautas” or “grandpa tramps”of Spain and Europe.