Costa Rica is a Latin American country renowned for its stunning beaches, delicious coffee and idyllic weather. It also has an aging population and is a world leader in elderly care. In 2020, 9% of Costa Ricans were above the age of 60. According to projections, this number could rise to over 20% by 2050, transforming Costa Rica into a super-aged society. Read on to discover how the provision of elderly care in Costa Rica is paving the way for a brighter future.
After the 1948 Costa Rican civil war, as the world balked at the horrors of the Second World War and grappled with human rights, the Costa Rican government made a bold decision. It abolished its military and, instead, began establishing an inclusive and comprehensive social welfare program. Today, 96% of the population is covered by the government’s universal health care, including nearly all older adults.
While 17% of older adults are impoverished, Costa Rica is one of the few Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states where people aged 65 and above are less likely to face poverty compared to the average citizen. Moreover, Costa Rica boasts one of the smallest gender disparities in old-age poverty rates within the OECD.
Supporting Costa Rica’s Elderly: A Three-Pronged Approach
Elderly individuals in Costa Rica receive support from three main sources: their families, nonprofit organizations and the state. Together, these systems form a safety net that makes elderly care in Costa Rica uniquely dignified and effective.
Older adults’ families are their primary caregivers, with 85% of people above the age of 65 living with two or more other people in 2017. This reflects the cultural norms of inter-generational households and familial support. However, the American Association of Retired Persons reports that the rate of elderly Costa Ricans living alone increased by 36% between 2011 and 2017. This suggests that there could be a need for nonprofit and government programs to expand to sustain the country’s older adult population.
The Yamuni Tabush Foundation, for example, has been promoting healthy aging in Costa Rica since its founding in 2013. A partner of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the foundation played a crucial role in securing protective medical supplies for older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. The foundation also trained community health workers in high-risk areas and staff working in elderly residences, protecting vulnerable aged populations when they needed it most.
Legislative support has also shaped the landscape of elderly care in Costa Rica, guided by the values of human rights and equality. In 1999, the government passed the Comprehensive Law for Older Adults, the first piece of national legislation specifically aiming to improve older adults’ quality of life. Demonstrating its support for this vulnerable group, Costa Rica ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Adults in 2016. In 2020, the country criminalized the abandonment of older adults on the grounds that it infringed upon their human rights. The government also showed its commitment to older adults when, in 2015, it increased funding to the National Council for Older Adults (CONAPAM) and its associated care network, Red Cuido.
CONAPAM partners with community homes, daycare centers and churches to aid exceptionally vulnerable or impoverished older adults. This government program impacts more than 15,000 people annually and has played a significant role in the implementation of The First National Alzheimer Plan of Costa Rica. This plan, the first of its kind in a low or middle-income country, focuses on improving the quality of life of dementia patients, who make up some 10.7 per 1,000 Costa Ricans.
The quality of life of older Costa Ricans is not all perfect. Only 22% of the elderly population have been able to find employment, out of which 70% are working in the informal sector. The situation worsens as 43% of older adults have reported experiencing violent encounters, and almost 10% have faced age-based discrimination.
Nonetheless, Costa Rica has robust support structures within families and the nonprofit and government sectors. For decades, elderly care in Costa Rica has led both Latin America and the world in protecting the rights and dignity of older adults. As its older population continues to grow, its next steps may pave the way for a brighter future for older adults both inside and outside its sunny borders.
– Faye Crawford