“I’ve reached the point in my life when, if somebody tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to.” Scientist Albert Einstein’s wry comment is relevant the April conference on “Ageing in Asia Pacific: Balancing the State and the Family.”
Convened in Cebu City , this 20th biennial conference of the Association of Asian Social Science Research Councils considered “myths about the elderly” to new scientific tools, like “ALE”.
ALE — what?
“The concept of active life expectancy or “ALE” is relatively new in the Philippines ,” explains Grace Cruz of UP Population Institute. With fellow researchers Yashushiko Sato and Josefina Natividad, she writes: ALE is moving to policy front burners.
Filipinos today live longer. “Former president Bill Clinton dubs us ‘junior-senior.’ My surviving classmates prefer to be called “mature”. In La Union, average life spans exceeds 74 years. But it only 55 in Tawi-Tawi.
In 2010, there were 6.4 million senior citizens. Ranks of the “young once” are surging. “Lolos” and “Lolas”, plus a few spinster aunts, “will account for 7.8% of population when President Benigno Aquino’s term ends.
Come 2040 about 19.6 million of what Associated Press dubs “near elderly”. There’ll be 141.7 million of us then. Some will be justices, physicians, church leaders, even newspaper columnists.
But there’ll be many in nursing homes, hospitals —- or begging on the streets and clustered in slums. All ask when did those same steps turn steeper? And they’re likely to request: Speak louder please.
“Don’t complain about growing old,” Justice Earl Warren wrote. “Many people don’t have that privilege.” But “success in adding years to life does not necessarily mean adding life to years”. In fact, longer lives can peter out in poor health and in crippling disability.
Yet, little is known of ALE. What are differentials between socioeconomic groups? Anyone studied health transition patterns among older people?
Average lifespan of men today is 67 years while that of women is 72. A prevailing myth is the elderly are dependent on their children. Amaryllis Tiglao-Torres said. In fact, many of the elderly pitch in for children and grandchildren. They double as guardians when a parent becomes an Overseas Foreign Worker. But they’re marginalized in the job market and are vulnerable to disease. Government pensions are inadequate.
The percentage of elderly-headed household belonging to the poorest 10% of the population has been on the rise since 1997, says a separate study by Dennis Mapa and others.
The presence of a young dependent (aged 14 years old or below) increases the probability that the elderly-headed household will become poor by about 9 percentage points, estimates Mapa and team in a paper titled: “Determinants of Poverty in Elderly-Headed Households in the Philippines. To tamp down poverty, policy must country must include measures that will “bring down the fertility rate to a level that is conducive to higher income growth.”
Swelling ranks of elderly imply a corresponding increase in the number with disabilities,. This future scenario elevates health, particularly health expectancy, as a central issue in policy formulation for the aging, Cruz notes in an earlier study: “Active Life Expectancy Among Older Filipnos”.
The number of older people unable to perform once routine everyday chores — from bathing, reading, using a cell phone or going on Internet — has implications at various levels. Demand for buffed up government health budgets for one. The Aquino regime has collected more revenues. But there are competing demands on the health peso from the younger sector of the population. The young are also the majority.
“The burden of care for the elderly — financial and non-material support, — will have to managed by the family”, Cruz foresees. Traditional family structures, are changing rapidly. A major factor is overseas as well as rural-to-urban movements. “Labor migration eroded the ability of the family to care for its older members.”
Women are traditional caregivers for the elderly. Often, older people take on surrogate parental roles for grandchildren whose parents have left for overseas employment. Demand for women OFWs outstrip the jobs for men.
Poverty cripples a family’s ability to care for its elder members. Out of every 100 Filipinos, 34 scrape below the poverty line. Thus, older folk working despite their advanced years and wobbly health status.
“Filipinos are generally known for their strong filial obligation. (But) poverty can erode the middle generation’s capacity to provide economic and health assistance for the older generation’. Savings in the bank determines level of “inter-generational support”. The less-endowed are less likely to be involved in kin support.
Both number and proportion of healthy years relative to total remaining life years dwindle with age for men and women. Functional impairment is a reality. These result in significant life style restrictions. Unless policy measures are enacted, the elderly will skid into social isolation, poor nutrition and overall decrease in quality of life.
Specially urgent will be measures to address needs of women who’ll spend longer periods in disability before death. As Emily Dickenson wrote: “Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.”