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'You'll get old too'

Social worker says politicians will also benefit from social security programmes they implement

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Sunday Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 23, 2012    

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WARNING that age is a great equaliser, Jeffrey James, regional director for HelpAge International Caribbean is urging leaders to provide social support for the elderly or face the harsh outcomes.

"That's the irony. They (leaders) don't look at themselves as being old," said James, arguing that policymakers' failure to implement systems in favour of the elderly will also impact negatively on them.

"I think it's going to come to a head and I think if these things are not dealt with properly you are going to find a lot of persons just leaving their elderly on the streets. It is going to be hitting you straight in the face, just like how you see little boys and so on the streets, you are going to be seeing a lot of that," he told the Jamaica Observer in an interview Thursday.

He said Jamaica can model Caribbean neighbour Barbados in shaping a proactive plan.

"Barbados has services, they have a geriatric hospital. But it came to a head in Barbados because the society had been ageing for a long time where the families could no longer cope and they took their relatives to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and they never came back and they ended up in the geriatric hospital," he noted.

"This is out of families not knowing how to cope with an older person and we (Jamaica) are going to come to that point. We have a grave incidence of Alzheimer's here in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean and that's one of the most difficult things to cope with. It is on the increase here," James warned.

He said for its part, HelpAge is seeking to minimise the force of the coming blow by training caregivers at the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre.

"One of the items on the curriculum is dealing with older people who are suffering from depression. A lot of older people suffer from depression or dementia and Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia.

"It is going to become more and more pronounced and I think if these things are not dealt with properly you are going to find a lot of persons just leaving their elderly on the streets," he told the Sunday Observer.

That realisation, James said, was the reasoning behind calls for the introduction of a universal social pension. He said the late Faith Innerarity (former chief technical director at the Ministry of Labour) made a submission to Cabinet about a universal pension scheme several years ago, but that it was not agreed to.

"As a matter of fact, just before she died I know she was going at it again and was asking me about information about doing a feasibility study because we did such a study for Belize," he noted.

"What we are saying is, if you introduce universal social pension, these people have a little money. It's a predictable source of income where you can buy food, get medication and stay away from the doctor and live more healthily for a longer period," James explained.

"One of the things people do when they don't have the money to buy medication [is that] if they have a month's dosage they make it last for two months so, instead of taking one tablet they take half and instead of taking three tablets, three times per day they take it once or twice and the doctors will tell you the ramifications of that," he pointed out.

"Sometimes they tell you they have to choose between food and medication. They can't eat right because they can't afford the type of food," he added.

Noting that the National Health Fund — which was introduced to decrease the burden on the system by offering medication at subsidised rates - was a step in the right direction, James said the universal pension was predicated on a similar principle.

"If people have a little money in their pocket, they can maintain the diet because if you get the free medication how are you going to get the food? More and more people are going to end up getting hospitalised," he reasoned.

"Somebody needs to do a study [to look at] the cost of a hospital bed for an older person as against giving that person a minimum amount of money per month," he said, adding that some elderly persons have been discharged from hospitals as a result of the patient load and the unavailability of beds.

The number of Jamaicans 60 years of age and over is 305,135.

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