Health Barriers Faced by the Elderly in JamaicaIn line with the global aging population trend, Jamaica has seen a rapid increase in its elderly population. This increase is now calling for continued action to address the health barriers faced by the elderly in Jamaica.

An Aging Population

In 1995, Jamaica reported having 110,430 males and 130,020 females in the 60 years and older group. This represented 9.42% of the total population in the country. By 2001, Jamaica’s elderly population consisted of 122,844 males and 141,869 females. A decade later in 2011, the census reported that the number of individuals who were 60 years or older had risen to 145,204 males and 159,979 females. These numbers indicated a 15.2% increase in the total number of people who were 60 years or older from 2001 to 2011.

Additionally, by 2011, those in this age group accounted for a greater share of the dependency ratio, a ratio measuring the number of young (0-15 years) and old (60 years or older) people in a population compared with that of the working population.

The World Health Organization has stated that this older population is mostly affected by chronic non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis, hypertension and cancers. In 2018, Jamaica reported that 72% of elderly people had at least one chronic illness, with hypertension and diabetes being the most common. This contributes to the high percentage of people taking medication as well. Furthermore, persons over 60 years of age were much more likely to experience protracted illnesses in comparison to the rest of the population.

Healthcare Barriers

With recent progress in Jamaica’s life expectancy, the elderly are living longer. According to the World Health Organization, in 2018, the life expectancy for Jamaicans was 76.2 years. It is expected that these individuals will require more long-term care and rehabilitation services as they become increasingly vulnerable to diseases and lose physical or mental capacities.

However, there is limited access to local long-term care services in Jamaica and the number of caregivers has decreased throughout the country. Traditionally, younger Jamaicans would stay home and help care for older family members, but with the recent fall in family size resulting from a drastic drop in the fertility rate, the number of family members available to care for these individuals has significantly declined. The issue is worsened by the increasing number of young Jamaicans migrating abroad, typically to the United States, and leaving their older family members behind who frequently encounter difficulties in accessing rehabilitation services independently.

Financial Barriers to Healthcare

Many older Jamaicans also face financial barriers in accessing much needed medical treatment and services. While Jamaica has established a wide and extensive network of public primary care centers and hospitals offering free or low-cost services, the cost of medications and other health care resources has risen as most of these products are imported and the nation’s currency has undergone severe devaluation.

These financial burdens are especially felt by the country’s older population who rely on pensions to cover their living and health expenses. The Old Age Pension provided to qualifying retired Jamaicans is usually insufficient to cover the additional health costs associated with old age as the pensions do not adjust to meet the yearly changes in the cost of living.

Lack of Access to Healthcare in Rural Areas

Additionally, older Jamaicans living in rural areas experience significantly higher barriers to health as there is a lack of overall access to medical care, health and treatment services and transportation. A study conducted in 2012 found that people living in rural areas tend to have more “uncontrolled and undiagnosed disease,” evidenced by the fact that 27.5% of those surveyed who were diagnosed with high blood pressure had not previously received a diagnosis from a doctor. Furthermore, among those who had received a prior diagnosis, 72.2% had signs of the disease as being poorly controlled.

Also, health barriers are intensified by the fact that only 30% of the elderly population living in rural areas are pension recipients as compared to 44.4% in the Kingston Metropolitan Area. The elderly in rural areas also report having greater issues with food availability and adequacy as 53% stated not having easy access to the food they need.

Researchers Eldemire-Shearer, K Mitchell-Fearon and DL Holder-Nevins stated in 2014 that these difficulties in accessing treatment and food emphasize the health challenges that older Jamaicans face as the current health system is primarily engaged in reducing chronic disease and maintaining functional ability. They say a different approach is needed to better meet the new demands of older Jamaicans who suffer from prolonged mental or physical conditions.

Addressing Barriers

In 2018, the Jamaican government revised the National Policy for Senior Citizens, created in 1997, to introduce new measures for supporting and improving the quality of life for the elderly. The plan outlines a multi-stakeholder approach designed to address social, economic and health barriers faced by this fast-growing population.

The document promotes universal access to quality health care for all senior citizens and acknowledges the varying medical needs within this age group. It also calls for a greater expansion of health insurance coverage since only 23% of elderly people are insured.

Furthermore, the plan outlines steps for improving income security for all senior citizens and tasks the government with providing food assistance when necessary. It also provides detailed initiatives for expanding access to health resources, including mental health services, home and respite care, physiotherapy and other rehabilitation services. All these health resources for the elderly are to be carried out under the supervision of the National Council for Senior Citizens, which monitors and evaluates the progress of senior citizen programs at both the national and regional levels.

While the existing health care system will require the full implementation of all these measures in the coming years to combat the health barriers faced by the elderly in Jamaica, this policy plan offers a comprehensive guide to start addressing some of these challenges.

– Emely Recinos
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in South Korea

While South Korea is home to great technological developments and world-famous rising trends, it also has one of the highest numbers of impoverished elderly in a single developed country. Around half of the senior citizens are living in poverty with little to no support from relatives or the government. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, consists of over 30 countries that work with one another to encourage economic development. Unfortunately, despite all the economic progress it has made, South Korea has the highest elderly poverty rate of all OECD countries.

How Elderly Poverty in South Korea Came to Be

In the 1970s, a financial crisis hit South Korea that caused around 2 million people to be unemployed, many of these workers being senior citizens today. When the country began building its economy back up, many companies decided to replace the older generation of workers with younger ones. While the younger workers did not cost as much, the newly jobless population was left with no other choice but to retire earlier than expected.

In the present day, the now elderly population who was affected by the financial crisis have to support themselves by working non-conventional jobs. These jobs include picking trash off the street, cleaning or in the most extreme cases, elderly prostitution. Since this way of living is detrimental to the mental wellbeing of the older population, senior suicide rates have risen over time. Just three years ago, for senior citizens around 70 years old, nearly 50 people out of 100,000 committed suicide. For senior citizens around 80 years old, that number went up to 70 people per 100,000.

South Korea’s Welfare Programs

  • Comprehensive Welfare Program: In 2012, South Korea began the Comprehensive Welfare Program to benefit the impoverished elderly population. Senior citizens who are physically compromised were given assistance in everyday routines, such as housework or laundry. Meals are provided at senior citizen dining halls and even delivered for those who cannot make it to a meal service location. Social service and activity programs were implemented as well, which helps boost the mood of the elderly who would not have otherwise gotten a form of entertainment anywhere else.
  • Community Care Program: In 2019, South Korea announced the Community Care Program to aid senior citizens as well as other vulnerable groups. This program is spread all throughout South Korea, with application booths in plenty of local areas. Similar to the Comprehensive Welfare Program, the Community Care Program also provides in-home care services for physically compromised seniors, as well as food deliveries. This program also provides public housing and elderly daycare for those in need of special assistance and care. Additionally, 12 million won (nearly $12,000) will be provided as subsidies for senior citizens who continue to reside in the Community Care Program.

Creating Jobs for Seniors

In late 2019, South Korea’s employment rate continued to grow over 300,000 new jobs every month. Employment in late 2019 was around 27.5 million jobs, which is over 330,000 more jobs from the previous year. This hiring growth was because of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s plans to increase senior jobs using the over 1.5 trillion won (nearly $1.5 billion) from their budget. Those who were out of a job previously were able to get a chance at improving their lives and livelihoods through becoming employed again.

– Karina Wong
Photo: Needpix

Cyprus Poverty Rate
The European Social Watch Report 2010 identified the elderly as the generation most at-risk to be affected by poverty. However, within the past few years, the over-65 poverty rate has decreased dramatically, dropping from 45 percent in 2008 to 17.3 percent in 2015. Two key factors played a major role in this improvement.


Causes of Poverty in Cyprus


Pension Maturation: Everyone who is gainfully employed in Cyprus (including self-employed individuals) is eligible to receive compulsory social insurance. This insurance also includes an old age pension, which is the primary source of income for Cypriots over age 65.

The current Cypriot social insurance scheme was last reformed in 1980, affecting pension levels in two important ways. First, the system changed from a flat-rate to an earnings-related structure. This means that the level of pension available is based on the level of insurable earnings. Second, pension levels are based on the length of the contribution period. As the current system has “matured,” or gotten older, retiring Cypriots have had more time to contribute to their pensions. This has allowed for an increase in income from old-age pension, directly correlating to the decrease in the over-65 poverty rate.

Overall Wage Decline: In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, unemployment rose and wages fell in Cyprus. The European Social Policy Network (ESPN) cited both a 7.6 percent drop in mean monthly earnings for full-time workers between 2010 and 2014 and a rise in non-standard employment as repercussions of the crisis. However, income for Cypriots over 65 remained relatively stable due to the old age pension.

It is important to note that the dramatic decline in the over-65 poverty rate in Cyprus is not necessarily secure. The ESPN predicts that pension growth will level off as the system fully matures, the poverty line will rise as the economy grows and pension levels will be lower in the future as workers in non-standard positions retire. Maintaining the current Cyprus poverty rate for Cypriots over age 65 will require focusing on income levels for retirees. In the current system, that means safeguarding the ability for workers to obtain an adequate pension.

Erik Beck

Photo: Flickr

South Korea's Elderly Are Living in PovertyFinancial instability is an ongoing issue for older generations in South Korea. Almost half of South Korea’s elderly are living in poverty.

The life span of South Koreans has increased, and so has economic difficulty for younger people in South Korea. This makes it much more difficult for the children of the elderly to provide for their parents in the way that South Koreans did before the 1990s.

Not only that, but the percentage of kids who believe they should take care of their ailing parents has fallen from 90 percent to 37 percent.

Benefits for the retired are not good, so even those who were financially successful during their younger days are living in severe poverty during old age.

Pensions in South Korea only add to about a quarter of the minimum household income, giving the elderly only around $200 per month. Not only that, but only around 35 percent of seniors receive any pension at all.

South Korea’s pension system did not begin until 1988, which leaves many elderly citizens without pension benefits. Even though the pension does not amount to a much, going without it makes living expenses even more costly for certain individuals.

Many elderly people in South Korea are trash collectors, attempting to scavenge up enough tossed goods to cash in for money so that they are able to buy medicine and food.

Most elderly citizens that have been interviewed feel they must perform odd jobs and find money on their own rather than asking for help. This may be because they were unable to properly provide for their children or they believe that no one owes them anything.

“You see on the news quite frequently elders who get killed by vehicles while picking up cardboard,” says Mr. Shin So Ho, manager of the grassroots organization Silver Volunteer Cooperation Associations.

On Thursdays, churches give out the equivalent of 50 cents to seniors, and it is reported that anywhere from 300 to 500 seniors show up to receive this free gift.

South Korea’s elderly are living in poverty because of these factors, but the most important factor that needs changing is government benefits in South Korea for the elderly.

Noel Mcdavid

Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in South Korea Poverty Rate 2016
In 2012, speakers and screens worldwide played “Gangnam Style,” a song that illustrated the life of the city that contains seven percent of South Korea’s GDP in an area of 15 square miles. The hit surpassed two billion views on YouTube, but the opulence within the video is in no way representative of the true poverty in South Korea.

However, beneath the luxury, technology, and consumerism that characterize the nation is a forgotten and struggling generation largely responsible for transforming South Korea into a modern economy — the elderly.

Elderly Disproportionately Affected by Poverty in South Korea

Every Thursday, seniors line up for hours outside churches to receive the equivalent to 50 cents and a juice box or a banana. Organizers of this short-term relief program for poverty in South Korea report 300 to 500 seniors at each church every week.

“Half of the elderly is poor in [South] Korea. So it’s really a very serious problem,” Seoul National University professor Ku In-hoe told NPR. The country has the highest elderly poverty rate of the 34 developed nations.

The elderly living in poverty in South Korea earn 50% or less of the median household income, which amounts to U.S. $9,890 per year, according to the IB Times.

The government does provide alleviation with pensions of $200 per month for the retired, but the National Pension Research Institute Survey revealed this amounts to merely a quarter of the minimum income needed for single households. Furthermore, only an estimated 35% of seniors receive the pension.

While 7.9% of households with a retired senior describe their living expenses as “comfortable,” 41.7% rated them as “inadequate” and 20.4% as “extremely inadequate”.

Those living in poverty in South Korea increasingly rely on loans to survive. The national household debt recently topped US $971.6 billion, or 81% of the South Korean GDP.

“Before the 1990s, usually younger people supported their parents during their retirement so it was not that serious of a problem,” Ku added in his interview with the NPR. “But elderly people [now] live longer, and younger people also experience economic difficulty.”

In fact, the declining birth rate in South Korea will stymie the ability of the young to meet the demands of a growing population. The most recent Korean Census shows the elderly rose from seven percent of the population in 2000 to 12% in 2013. Experts expect a continued increase as more baby boomers age and retire.

An organizer of the church and mobile soup kitchen services, Pastor Choi Won, also cites the waning of Confucian traditions as a contributor to the elderly poor in an interview with Korea Portal.

“Gone are the days when children looked after their parents,” he said. One in three seniors lives alone in South Korea.

The South Korean government plans to provide more assistance in the future, as the pension system that began in 1988 evolves. Officials predict, “90 percent of people aged 64 and over will receive pension by 2060,” according to Korea Portal.

In the meantime, churches will continue to provide additional assistance to elders who experience poverty in South Korea.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr

According to the Global Age Watch Index, Honduras is the worst Western hemisphere country to live in as an elderly person. The survey measured income security, health status, employment and education, and enabling the environment. It is important to understand and consider the well-being of the elderly in different countries, because their mortality is a good indicator of a country’s total development.

Over half of the participants reported not feeling safe using public transportation or walking alone at night. According to the World Bank, “Between 2005 and 2011, the homicide rate in Honduras more than doubled from 37 to 91.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.”  The lack of a pension system leaves 70 percent of Hondurans above the age of 60 in poverty.

Less than seven percent of Honduras’s population is 60 years old or over, which correlates with the poor living conditions of the elderly. Moreover, it is harder to advocate for better condition for the elderly when they are a minority. Inversely, developed Western countries have high aging populations and living standards for the elderly. Larger aging populations have more representation, especially in democratic countries. Therefore, governmental policies are more favorable to the elderly.

Population make-up significantly impacts the future of a country. Countries with large youth populations are more inclined to political instability. The Arab Spring, for example, was started in countries with large populations of youth. The Survey was created by the United Nations Population Fund and covered 98 percent of the world’s elderly.  It was motivated by the growing aging demographic in the world’s population.

As expected, traditionally developed countries fared better in the survey – Sweden, Norway and Canada top the list of best countries to grow old in.

– Nicole Yancy

Sources: Foreign Policy: Think Again Global Aging, Foreign Policy: The Arab World’s Youth Army, The Guardian, World Bank, IB Times
Photo: Billweeks

HelpAge USA Fights for Elderly RightsThough the eldest members of society are believed to be the wisest, they have also been revealed as the poorest and most neglected age group in the world. HelpAge USA formed in response to this travesty as a way to help the elderly claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty.

Though many aid organizations set their sights on helping young, vulnerable children, HelpAge USA recognizes that the elderly are often just as vulnerable as the youngest members of society. HelpAge USA, therefore, works with partnering organizations to spread awareness about elderly people’s roles and value in communities.

HelpAge USA is an affiliate of the broader HelpAge international movement that builds awareness of global aging issues around the world. As a branch of this successful parent group, HelpAge USA spreads awareness of elderly rights among U.S. audiences while simultaneously urging them to advocate for the empowerment of the elderly in the developing world.

At the infrastructural level, HelpAge USA has outlined specific goals for improving communities’’ ability to help its older members, such as enabling older men and women to have secure incomes, quality health care, and support in emergency situations.

In addition to building up infrastructure, HelpAge USA works directly with the elderly to build a global and local movements that teach older men and women how to stand up for themselves in the face of discrimination. This is an important tool for the young and old alike, especially in impoverished regions with lower access to widespread employment, resources, and education.

The most innovative part of HelpAge USA is that it involves older men and women in “program design, implementation, and review.” That is, HelpAge USA relies on the input of the elderly themselves to drive the movement’s goals and ambitions. What better way to empower and properly gauge the needs of a deprived group of citizens than to place them at the heart of the movement itself?

For all they have done for their neighbors and communities, HelpAge USA believes that society owes the elderly their share of healthcare, social services, and economic and physical security in return.

In the fight against global poverty and affronts to human rights standards, one cannot forget to fight for the rights of the older men and women that have contributed so much to their communities’ social, economic and cultural development during their lives.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: HelpAge USA, Idealist
Photo: Flickr

The Link Between Volunteering and Happiness Levels in the ElderlyFor many seniors, the act of volunteering at a local mission or community outreach center is simply a chance to give back to those less fortunate than themselves. However, based upon the results of a recent study, seniors might also want to consider the little known correlation between altruism, helping, volunteering, and happiness levels that result as an added bonus to their commitment to serve.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio conducted a longitudinal study in which they followed a group of 585 community living seniors over the course of three years. During the study, the research participants’ psychosocial well-being outcomes were measured in two waves; this included life satisfaction, positive effects, negative effects, and depressive symptoms. The results of the study – though expected – was nevertheless important in regards to quantifying the positive outcomes of certain behaviors in the elderly population. Subsequently, evidence emerged that overwhelming supported the link between seniors exhibiting higher traits of altruism, informal helping, and volunteering and happiness levels.
This research is great news for national and community service and can act as even more of an incentive for seniors to get involved in organizations such as The Borgen Project for the long term benefits of increased volunteering and happiness levels. Simply stated, by giving a little of their time and/or financial resources whenever possible, retired seniors can help win the war on global poverty.
Brian Turner

Source: Journal of Aging and Health
Photo: New York State Senate