“My brother’s wife and children call my mother crazy. She suffers from dementia; she is not crazy,” said Zahra, daughter of 81-year-old Jabeen Fatima.
“The family does not want her to be a part of social gatherings anymore, even though she is mobile and likes social interaction. It is very tough to make people understand,” Zahra added.
Jabeen Fatima belongs to a middle-class urban family but faces social isolation and a lack of proper care, as well as reluctance on her family’s part to house her.
She is one of Pakistan’s 11.6 million people, or 6.6% of the total population, over the age of 60; by 2050, this number is expected to reach 43.3 million people, or almost 16% of the country’s expected population. This requires the country to adopt completely new approach to health care, retirement, living arrangements and intergenerational relations.
The number of older persons is growing faster than any other age group, says a new report ‘Ageing in the twenty-first century: A celebration and a challenge’ released by the United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge International. In just 10 years, the number of older persons will surpass 1 billion people—an increase of close to 200 million people over the decade. While two out of three people, or 66%, aged 60 or over, live in developing and emerging economies today, this ratio will rise to nearly four in five, or 80%, by 2050.
Legislating for the elderly
Sharmila Farooqi, special assistant to chief minister Sindh for media, and chief guest at the launch of the report, emphasised on the importance of national policy and legislation for the elderly in Pakistan. She said the provincial government will extend support and take appropriate measure for the passing of a legislation that ensures the rights of the elderly. The Senior Citizens Bill, however, has been pending in parliament since 2007.
“This bill could help in protection of rights of the elderly,” said Waqas A Qureshi from HelpAge International.
“We need to introduce a system of non-contributory social pensions, in recognition of old age poverty, as well as better health services for the elderly. Our aim should be inclusive development,” he said while talking to The Express Tribune. He pointed out basic things, like availability of wheelchairs and ramps in public places or availability of elder-age-friendly food packages in flood-affected areas that could help the elderly live a dignified life.
Health care would include investment in prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases, he added.
Old, but working
According to the report, 47% of older men and nearly 24% of older women participate in the labour force. Yet, despite the contributions that an ageing population can give to society, many older persons all over the world face continued discrimination, abuse and violence. Creating livelihood opportunities for the over 60s is, therefore, important, the report says. Speaking at the report’s launch in Karachi, UNFPA Representative, Rabbi Royan, said the speed and scale of demographic change very often can catch us off-guard, and therefore it is important that countries be prepared.
A growing elderly population, the rising cost of health care and a shift in the social value system are creating new challenges. What do the elderly need?
“A nursing home is a good idea if someone cannot perform daily self-care activities. But if they are not totally dependent, the elderly should be in families or facilities, with assistance,” said geriatric specialist Dr Arifa Jamal.
“This gives them more control over their lives and makes them feel less helpless. As a society, we have to re-learn to incorporate elders,” she added.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2012.