The challenge of caring for older adults in Latin America is doubled for national and local governments and the families that shelter them in their homes.
The Woman Post | María Consuelo Caicedo Toro
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Although the figures that have to do with the number of older adults in Latin America and the conditions in which they live are important, they tend to be "cold" data that summarize the matter in statistics. That is why The Woman Post wanted to approach the daily feelings of older adults who, in Latin countries like Colombia, must face the challenges of exclusion and oblivion that they often cannot overcome.
A recent study by the Development Bank of Latin America published by the Colombian economic newspaper La República reveals that "in the next 30 years, the proportion of Latin Americans at least 65 years old will double, reaching almost 18%". The projections of this research indicate that "currently just over 8% of the (Latin American) population is 65 years of age or older, well below the 18% in Europe. In contrast, by 2050, the figure doubles and reaches 17.5%, a level similar to the current one in Europe. In addition, it is estimated that by the end of the century, it will exceed 30%".
Based on these data, it seems that the challenge of caring for older adults on this side of the world is doubled for national and local governments and the families that shelter them in their homes.
Much has been written about the abuse and abandonment of older adults within their homes. And although it is a topic of great importance, the social worker of the Externado de Colombia University, Andrea Prieto, shows another side of the coin that is no less relevant. Prieto has been a university professor and executor of projects and programs of Development and Organizational in the Human Development Headquarters of the Colombian Navy Command for several decades.
From the specialist's perspective, "aggression towards the elderly goes through the infrastructure of cities that does not take them into account. This includes medical services whose care leaves much to be desired and technology that leaves them abandoned because they cannot keep up with its progress."
Prieto gives the example of a city like Bogotá that, from her perspective, does not adapt to older adults who must leave their house to face broken pedestrian paths where they can suffer accidents. Even more so if they walk without the support and company from a caregiver: "If the older adult needs a wheelchair to get around, many times they have to do it on the street where vehicles travel because the sidewalks are in poor condition. The same happens if they use a walker or move independently".
Other scenarios in which older adults seem forgotten are shopping malls and restaurants, where according to Andrea Prieto, "they are lucky if there is more than one bathroom that suits their support needs."
Seeing this panorama, it is easy to assume that an older adult with the limitations of age is terrified of leaving his home: "The city is aggressive with them, and, logically, they feel affected not only physically but emotionally when they leave their comfort zone, their home. Their dignity is not recognized, nor does anyone seem to care about their quality of life".
The social worker consulted also draws attention to health services: "In Colombia, for example, doctors tend to treat the elderly in small offices where there is hardly any room for movement. And in hospitals and clinics, there are often no geriatric care units. Also, many doctors and nurses are not sensitive to the elderly."
Prieto also addresses the technology applied to banking or other procedures, which are indifferent to the limitations that an older adult may have to carry out operations: "Frequently they are not adequately assisted. Seeing this panorama, I would say that, given the increase in the number of older adults in our country to date and the figures for the increase in this population shown by the statistics for the coming years in Latin America, it is urgent to address these issues and seek prompt solutions and practices."
What Can Be Done?
The advice of the social worker consulted by The Woman Post to provide a better quality of life for older adults is essentially three:
1. Governments must design public policies aimed at the protection and well-being of the elderly, taking into account family and social and economic aspects. This implies mandatory legal measures or regulations applied to public transport, recreation sites, clinics, and hospitals and services in relation to procedures that any citizen must do.
2. Educational programs, from basic grades, should consider orientation towards the treatment that an older adult should have in the home: Promotion of respect, compassion, admiration, tolerance, commiseration, and pity because they are an essential member of the family and not should be seen as a burden.
3. Construction of decent spaces where the older adult who does not have a family can spend their last years with comfort and well-being and assist in their needs.