Tag Archives: Tradition

The African Age Wave – The Future is Now

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pixabay

“As we get older, our rights do not change. As we get older, we are no less human and should not become invisible.” These powerful words by 84-year-old South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu illustrate the necessary social, economic, and political shift that needs to occur in order for global sustainability to be achieved. He is in fact a living testament of what the world can expect to see, as the age wave extends itself far beyond geographical borders. In the foreword of the 2015 Global AgeWatch Index, Tutu goes on to say that “No future development goals can be legitimate or sustainable unless they include people of all ages and leave no one behind.” According to the National Institute on Health, “In 2010, an estimated 524 million people were aged 65 or older – eight percent of the world’s population. By 2050, this number is expected to nearly triple to about 1.5 billion, representing 16 percent of the world’s population.” This phenomenon is unprecedented, pervasive, enduring, and has profound implications around the world, especially in Africa where the age wave has gone virtually unnoticed.

The Global AgeWatch Index provides insight on the state of older people in various regions around the world. The Index measures four key domains that affect the welfare of older adults which include, income security, health status, capability and the enabling environment. According to the report, “Despite Africa’s rapid economic growth, poor social and economic wellbeing for older people means most countries continue to rank in the bottom quarter of the Index.” Mauritius ranked 42nd, which was the highest ranking of the region. This was followed by South Africa which ranked 78th, Ghana 81st, Tanzania 91st, Mozambique 94th and Malawi 95th. Although the index sheds light on the disparities that older adults are faced with, it does not tell the entire story for the African continent. Due to lack of data, only 11 of the 54 countries were evaluated.

While this report offers an empirical snapshot of the challenges faced by older adults in Africa, 65-year-old Dominic Ologi of Nairobi, Kenya personifies the plight of income security, one of the four key domains. His story parallels others throughout Africa. Ologi spent 30 years working in both private and public sectors, and when he retired nearly 10 years ago, he was faced with a harsh realization – he could not afford to remain without employment. His circumstance required that he goes back to work, and now at 65, Ologi is running a tap water kiosk. He is unable to enjoy his golden years just yet. Analogous to many Kenyans, Ologi is without savings and receives 7,500 shillings ($75) a month from his state pension. According to the South African financial services firm, Alexander Forbes, more than 40 percent of Kenyans cannot afford to retire and must continue working, and another 40 percent rely on family for support. Ologi’s story is not the exception, but in fact the rule. Based on this data, eight out of 10 Kenyans will experience similar hardships.

Conclusions about the Index can be drawn from what it states as well as from what it is missing. On the one hand, Africa is on its way to ratifying a charter on human rights that will outline specific obligations to older people. This effort signifies a more serious commitment to the urgent need for improvement that Africa now seeks to address. On the other hand, I could not help but think about the unquantifiable elements that would show Africa and the treatment of its elders in a more positive light. From firsthand experience, I have witnessed the level of respect given to elders in Africa remains unmatched. Elders continue to be the nucleus of entire communities, and are often sought after for wisdom and guidance. The African proverb, “A village without the elderly is like a well without water” illustrates the value placed on their contributions. Although Africa has a long journey towards developing an infrastructure that supports the needs of its older people, in some ways, it is miles ahead of the rest.

Andria Reta is a Gerontologist and Health Administration Professor.



What Does Elderly Health Mean in the UAE?

They think they are elderly and it is a normal consequence of ageing to be in bed,” says Dr Al Suwaidi.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a small country in the Middle East, nestled between Saudi Arabia to the West, Oman to the East and Iran to the North. A cross-sectional study reported that 95% of its participants, all adults over the age of 65 years, rated their health as satisfactory or higher. There is a general perception of good health among the elderly. Despite this fact, the UAE has the 2nd highest incidence of diabetes in the world, and 4th highest rate of glucose intolerance in its population. Very little in known about elderly health in the UAE and even less is known about elderly health beliefs in this population.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo by Paolo Margari.

Dr. Al Suwaidi, Director of Geriatrics at Dubai Health Authority, provides insight into what elderly health could be. She suggests the norm to be a passive acceptance of poor health during aging. Religion also plays a significant role in health care seeking behavior. A recurrent theme is the idea that ‘Health is from God‘, discouraging individuals to take action for better health which can imply going against the will of God. Another factor influencing health care seeking behavior is the presence of symptoms. Good health is equated with lack of visible disease, making it less likely to seek care for silent or underlying cases such as diabetes and hypertension.

There is a high regard for elders within the family structure. Common features of the family structure include a practice of traditional values, religion and high economic resources. Understanding the role of elders within the family is essential to providing adequate geriatric care. Dr. Al Suwaidi suggests that there is a greater need for day care centres than long term nursing homes since families would not be receptive to placing their elders in old-age living facilities. This shows the importance of encouraging families and increasing geriatric care that focuses on home-based elderly care.

Geriatric care is a relatively new branch of medicine in the UAE. There is a high disparity of geriatric care provided between the seven emirates, or regions, of the country. The emirates of Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah have relatively poor geriatric care facilities. This is because different governmental bodies govern and offer different services to their respective elderly population. In addition to disparity by location, there is also disparity by citizenship. UAE has one of the world’s highest proportions of an expatriate population, accounting for close to 90% of the country’s total population. This vast majority have limited access to health insurance and social welfare programs.

Current government initiatives include the Elderly Happiness Initiative (EHI) and Weleef. EHI aims to improve the quality of life of elders living alone by providing funding for health care workers to visit and provide home-based care. Weleef is a program that imparts knowledge on best practices to health care providers on a regular basis. Both programs operate in the Emirate of Dubai and are accessible only to UAE nationals or Emiratis. In Dubai, the elderly population, constituting 0.5% of the total population, accounts for 5% of out-patient visits. In addition to improving health, revisiting the current situation of elderly health can also help defray the costs of aging. The UAE needs an inclusive geriatric care model that incorporates local ideas on elderly health. The UAE needs an inclusive geriatric care model that takes local models of elderly health into account

Namratha Rao is currently pursuing her MSPH in International Health in Social and Behavioral Interventions at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

A Comparative View of Elder Abuse in Israel and the United States

Photo Credit: Hamed Masoumi

I spend every Tuesday morning visiting a dear friend at a local nursing home. My friend is a Holocaust survivor and at 90 years old, her mind is sharp since she easily recounts the story of her life – from the horrors of the camps to the beauty of Israel and finally to the hard work, freedom, and challenges of America. As I am ready to leave her and return to school each week, a look of loneliness washes over the smile on her face and I am reminded that her only other visitors are nurses and her daughter who can visit once a week.

The elderly comprise a significant amount of the U.S. population and statistics indicate that 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day for the next 15 years. As the U.S. population ages, older adults are often viewed in a negative light, and hence a target group for all kinds of abuse: physical, sexual, verbal and financial exploitation. It is estimated that a shocking 500,000 older adults are abused each year in the United States, with family members as the overwhelming majority of abusers (mainly partners and children of the individual). Most of these cases go unreported because the victim does not have the physical capability or mental capacity to inform an official of the mistreatment.

Elder abuse is a major issue currently plaguing Israel as well. A report by the University of Haifa indicated that 18 percent of elderly participants were subject to some form of abuse. The most common form is verbal abuse, indicating a potential problem in interpersonal relationships as people age. Verbal abuse may also be used as a method to instill terror and power in a relationship, lending the way to more types of abuse.

Many religions teach people to respect and revere the elderly. In short, an individual’s exterior does not properly convey the depth of its contents. My dear friend appears to be a frail old woman with a failing body but her mind is very active. The elderly are people above all else and they deserve to be treated as such.

It is impossible to ignore the fact that everyone will grow old one day. With this in mind, I urge you to take some time and think about giving back by volunteering with a senior in your area. You may be the only contact the person has with the outside world beside the caregiver, and can advocate on their behalf if you suspect abuse. For U.S. residents, visit Give Back to Seniors to search for volunteer opportunities in your community.

Linda Nakagawa is a rising senior at Brandeis University. She is a double major in Psychology and Politics with a minor in Social Justice Social Policy. Linda is originally from Newburgh, New York and is a member of Temple Beth Jacob. As a Machon Kaplan participant, Linda was a public policy intern at the National Association of States United for Aging and Disability.