The aging and elderly

Older people are very often an invisible section of society. Many face abuse, neglect, exclusion and poverty. For example in some cultures 25% of the elderly have nutritional anaemia – the result of an inadequate diet. In addition, most elderly people will. as they get older,develop some of the degenerative diseases of aging. They may not have access to their rights and entitlements…

Most NGOs give little priority to challenging age discrimination or ensuring that older people receive their fair share of development resources. Currently the voices of older people are not sufficiently heard, with little direct participation in research, in programme planning and advocacy work, even when these activities are intended to benefit them. There is a need for participatory policy-orientated research into the ways that older men and women contribute and the challenges they face – especially as the proportion of elderly in every culture will continue to rise.

If you work with the elderly there are ways of involving them in needs assessments and project design and monitoring.

Counting the Elderly with HIV/AIDS: UNAIDS estimate the number worldwide of invisible older people carrying the HIV/AIDS virus at 2.8 million. Most HIV prevalence data is collected and produced on 15-49 year olds. The reason given for this is that it makes the data comparable across countries. Or perhaps experts are uncomfortable thinking about older people in a sexual context. In the USA, an estimated 10% of current AIDS infections occur in persons aged 50 or more; 3% in people over 60. The main transmission route is sexual. The numbers are increasing fastest in these older groups; from 1990 to 1992, new AIDS cases increased by 17% among people of 60 or older.

Gender Issues within the Elderly: In many cultures older people live with their children. Older men will continue with their roles of guides and decision-makers; older women usually carry out tasks around childcare and housework – and also provide guidance and expertise. In traditional, rural settings their value may be clearly appreciated. But with urbanisation they may come to be seen as a burden. Women live longer than men and by the age of 80 they may not be able to contribute to household activities.

The role of pensions: Some countries have started to improve the situation of the elderly by providing non-contributory or social pensions. In South Africa pensions now reach 1.9 million older people at a cost of 1.4% of the gross domestic product (GDP). In Bangladesh, Botswana and Nepal, social pensions have reduced the number of people living on less than a dollar a day. The money also helps the dependents of the elderly, improving nutrition, access to medicine and to education. It has helped to reduce gender inequality in income and in the quality of life between older women and men.

blue-bullet There is much poverty among older people but it is usually older women who have to pick up the pieces of the AIDS epidemic. They become elderly carers of the orphans and vulnerable children when both elderly & children need support. Helpage International are the biggest organisation involved in work with the elderly in the South. They have an online library of manuals in PDF format which includes "Building Blocks: Africa-Wide briefing notes – supporting older carers" and Research Reports including “Chronic poverty and older people in South Africa”.

blue-bullet The US Centre for Disease Control has material on "healthy aging"

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nicolien 2015
Nicolien Wassenaar
Specific Groups Editor

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