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Irene: Population aging

Declining fertility rates and improved health care could mean that by 2020 the ageing population in Barbados could be as high as 60 per cent.

However, Acting Minister of Health, Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner says while this could be a “success story” for public health, it also represented obvious challenges for the said health system in the future.

She told care providers and the elderly at a joint National Committee on Ageing and Barbados Alzheimer’s Association training seminar this morning at Savannah Hotel that factors of declining fertility and better health services around the wold were resulting in the rapid growth of populations over 60 years of age.

“The number of senior citizens in our communities has therefore been steadily increasing. Senior citizens in Barbados grew by 65 per cent between 1970 and 1990 and it is anticipated that by the year 2020 this population will increase by a further 60 per cent.

“This population ageing can be seen as a success story for our public health policies and for socioeconomic development, but this ageing population has also created new challenges for society especially as it relates to health.”

The acting minister noted that it was critical to ensure that the elderly continued to live active lives, although some would be prone to long term chronic illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which would require them to have home or institutional care.

She added too that over time, dementia had been used to describe such conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, decline in cognition, memory, reasoning, communication and daily living skills.

“Increased risk of dementia is associated with vascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, obesity, diabetes, alcohol and drug misuse. We recognize therefore that dementia is a condition of concern not only to older people. While the most important risk factor is age, research evidence suggests that the pathology of dementia develops decades before diagnosis.”

World Health Organisation reports on dementia, she said, stressed the importance of making it a public health priority, as there were about 30 million people worldwide with Alzheimer’s and 4.6 million cases were diagnosed annually.

“Statistics at the Geriatric Hospital indicate that 60 per cent of its elderly population suffers from some form of memory impairment and while not all forms of memory impairment are due to Alzheimer’s disease, this risk factor on its own is a contributor to the need for long term care.”

This necessitated better planning by families for the finances and care of their relatives suffering with dementia, the removal of uncertainty and trauma associated with diagnoses and a care model as many sufferers also had other conditions like hypertension, diabetes, depression and arthritis.

“Formulation of programmes designed specifically for the elderly is essential. These programmes must be structured to be sensitive not only to the needs of the elderly population but to those who deliver the care to the elderly. In addition to having quality health care and social support will allow the elderly to get the most they possibly can out of their lives and bodies,” she said, expressing thanks to those responsible for providing such care everyday. (LB)

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