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Growing old on the rock: Ageing in Jamaica

20 May 2013

Currently there are 80,000 Jamaicans who are aged 80 or over. (c) Neil Cooper/HelpAge InternationalLast week, I had the pleasure of appearing on the Live at 7 show on CMTV in Jamaica (fast forward to 11 minutes in) for a special feature on our ageing population and how we deal with it.

The programme looked at how Jamaicans are living longer, providing a range of challenges and opportunities to the State. As was then mentioned in the programme, despite small changes and initiatives by the Government, there is no comprehensive plan to address older people's needs in Jamaica.

The 2011 Housing Census shows that over 11% of the total population is aged 60 and over; this is a 9% increase compared to last census in 2001. Currently, there are 60,000 Jamaicans who are aged 80 or over.

Lack of services for ageing population

Denese Eldemire Shearer, a Health and Ageing Professor, was asked for her opinion on ageing in Jamaica. She remarked that there are no services, including clubs or activities, to deal with population ageing. She went on to say that the major challenge Jamaica is facing is the need for specialised medical care.

Indeed, despite free healthcare and subsidised medication, there are still long waits at clinics and drugs aren't always available. Medication for illnesses like dementia is not even available on these programmes.

Kenneth Hemley, our older activist, also spoke in the feature about the way older people are treated at medical facilities and talked about the need for a special clinic day for older people.

Demographic shift not met by policy shift

The host Simon Crosskill then interviewed me and Dr Chloe Morris, Acting Director of the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre on what exists in terms of services for older people. I spoke about the current demographic shift not being met by the necessary policy shift.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focus on maternal and child health and hardly mention older people, meaning we are not well prepared to cope with an ageing population.

For example, sometimes older people are side-lined at clinics. Many have to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to wait in line and then aren't even seen because they don't hear when their ticket number is called.

More public education on ageing needed

I also mentioned the need for greater public education to tell people about ageing and to get people to think about the fact they're growing older. We also need to promote pensions and savings and encourage younger people to plan for their future and older age.

A lot of the time though, people and policy makers don't want to listen. Ageing does not get the attention it deserves, perhaps because it's not included in the MDGs.

If ageing is mainstreamed in the post-2015 process that will follow on from the MDGs, we hope older people will be better included in all policies in Jamaica and worldwide.

Watch "Growing older on the rock"

Find out more about our work to support older people in Jamaica

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Author profile

Kerryan Francis
Country: Jamaica
Job title: Programme & Communications Officer

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.