The Cuban population is aging faster than expected

Dos ancianas conversando. (14YMEDIO)
Two elderly women talking. (14YMEDIO)
Orlando Palma

29 de abril 2015 - 00:45

Havana/In a park in Central Havana the Grandparents’ Circle meets every week for physical exercises that help to prolong a healthy life. A few yards away, the line to buy rationed bread is also filled with gray-haired people more than six decades old.

The aging of the population is moving at a more accelerated pace than foreseen by the plans developed to deal with the consequences. This issue will be addressed at the 7th International Longevity Seminar to be held at the Palace of Conventions in Havana from Monday until Thursday.

The Cuban speakers at this event will present their proposals for how the healthcare system can meet the challenges of offering high quality care to adults age 65 and older who represented 18.3% of the population in the 2013 census and could exceed 25% in 2025. The situation is aggravated if we consider that the active working population won’t exceed 60% in the same year, according to studies by the National Bureau of Statistics.

In an interview with the newspaper Granma, Dr. Alberto Fernández Seco, head of the Department of the Elderly, Social Assistance and Mental Health in the Ministry of Public Health, said it has increased both geriatric services in the country as well as the number of residents in this specialty. “That is a great strength. However, the greatest challenge that we all have, not only in the healthcare sector, is the issue of care.”

In this concept of care aimed at seniors, we need to concentrate material and human resources, and improve infrastructure. Seemingly minor details, like the size of the text in public notices, the streetlighting schedule to allow pedestrians to pass along the main streets, the presence of chairs in the waiting rooms of institutions, in addition to other more visible and urgent aspects such as the poor condition of sidewalks or lack of information on the issues that matter most to older people.

The training of caregivers for the elderly is a true specialty in the modern world. We must learn to communicate with this sector, which at times becomes very sensitive to the codes of respect and understanding evidenced by the younger generations. To the extent that the number of elderly people increases, there will be a greater use of wheelchairs, walkers, special beds and mattresses, as well as the consumption of vitamins, medications and other supplies.

The desire to live 120 years or more, which was proclaimed in Cuba with the intensity with which the political slogans are launched, is a noble goal that is only viable and sustainable if it is based on a solid economic base. Most experts agree that to ensure a better old age Cubans will have to provide incentives for births and increases in the productive population. At the same time, we must provide opportunities for young people so they will not seek a better life abroad.

In the next 35 years Cuba could become one of the most aged nations in the world, which would not be exclusively the consequence of increased life expectancy, but also of the fact that fewer children will be born and more young people will emigrate.

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