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Oct 2, 2014

Healthy Living looks at the Quality of Life for Older Persons

This week is being celebrated as Senior Week which includes the celebration of International Day of Older Persons on October first. In Belize, there are several groups advocating for a better quality of life for older persons in our society. These organizations not only work to better the current situation of the elderly, but also to remind all stakeholders that an investment in the elderly today is an investment in all our individual futures. Tonight on Healthy Living, we look at some of areas of concerns and areas of progress affecting the lives of our older citizens.

 

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
Most recent statistics indicate that there are over twenty thousand Belizeans – over the age of 60 – living in Belize. Each year an estimated twelve hundred more Belizeans are turning 60. Add to this an increase in life expectancy and Belize will feature a more prominent aging population in the very near future.

 

Ix-Chel Poot, Program Officer, National Council On Ageing

Ix-Chel Poot


“We always identify with children because we know exactly what its like to be a child; but to be an older person you don’t understand until you’re there. Until it is you’re reality. We need to make them a priority now, because tomorrow that is exactly where we are going to be.”

 

Ix-ChelPoot works with the National Council on Aging. A body created in the early 2000 to ensure the protection of the human rights of the elderly while working to improve their quality of life.  There are several fundamental issues that affect our aging population. One of the main priority areas is ensuring protection in our laws.

 

Ix-Chel Poot

“We don’t have any legislations that protects older persons at this time. The National program on Aging ing conjunction with PAHO human rights lawyers and other stakeholders in Belize, we have a draft. It talks about protecting our population from specific things as we get older: defining things like elderly abuse. Your right and the standard of living that you need to have. If an older person is in an abusive situation at this time, there is very little we can do. A few years ago, there was an unfortunate situation that we had an older gentleman who was being abused by his daughter. But would not say that she was his abuser and we had to find other channels to remove him from that situation. Sadly he passed away before we were able to move him out. It took several turnarounds. There was no specific way that we could offer him a solution because there was no protection for his situation.”

 

In 2003, the Government rolled out the noncontributory pension for women and then for men in 2008. It was a boost back then; but the pension scheme still needs work.

 

Ix-Chel Poot

“Pensions for the most part are not adequate. Persons who have paid into their social security may receive on anywhere between one hundred and fifty to three hundred Belize dollars for a pension. And you can look around and realize that one hundred and fifty dollars what’s it going to meet in a month. The pensioners who receive the noncontributory pension, which is called a pension but is really a poverty alleviation scheme only receive a one hundred a month.  So we’re looking at pensions that are index rate; that are going to protect us as we get older. So that the pension will be able to purchase what you need it to purchase as you get older. But also looking at other avenues, many Belizeans only rely on social security because there is nothing else to buy into. So as a working Belizean I have my social security but also make other investments that will return when I am older and help me in the retirement age.”

 

Currently in Belize, less than fifty percent of our elderly population is receiving any kind of pension. The others are able to survive by being cared for by families or through charity programs. As for healthcare, geriatric care is also lacking.

 

Ix-Chel Poot

“The mercy clinic is an innovative clinic because it is one of the few geriatrics provider in the Caribbean but it exists only in Belize City. We’re talking about healthcare that includes training for nurses and doctors in the government system that is going to look at the issues of older persons. It is easy to dismiss certain illnesses with older people.   If a person is having a lapse in memory, they go “oh you forgetting because you’re older” it could be that they are forgetting because it is early onset Alzheimer’s or it could be they are forgetting because its early onset dementia or it could be they are forgetting because their medication have caused an imbalance and so now they are having problems with their memory.  And those are that are specific to an aging population and also the need for rehabilitative care. A lot of times an older person who has had a stroke. You’re going to say you’ve had a stroke and so that’s it. Or they are not going to refer them to the amount of physiotherapy that they need; but an older person who has had a stroke depending on the severe it’s been, with the proper amount of physiotherapy can regain their functionality and the quality of life continues.”

 

Organizations like HelpAge have been working in each district, trying to keep older persons engaged in various activities. VOICE is an advocacy group of elderly persons; senior steps gets seniors in Belmopan shaking. But seenagers also need access to actively participating in society.

 

Ix-Chel Poot

“We seem to forget that when we get older, we may be slower but our needs remain the same, they want to sit down and talk with friends. They want to enjoy themselves, listen to music, they want to dance. I always remember when I first started working here that I put up on Facebook: Looking for activities for elderly would enjoy and I got like teen people saying: Bingo. One of the ladies said Please, No bingo. So it’s more than what we think. Social inclusion involves us being able to give our older persons a place back in society. For example if an older person is still mentally able to do their banking but cannot enter the bank because there is no ramp, there are only steps or cannot stand in the long line so now he or she must realize on a friend, on a child to his/her banking. So you have removed that persons responsibilities to take care of their own financial needs. If an older person wants to go to church but no longer feels safe in a society to walk to church but a taxi will charge them twelve dollars – six to go, six to come back and they don’t have those finances that person is being excluded from being able to fellowship.”

 

Belize has made it’s share of progress: Newer buildings are incorporating ramps in their construction for those with disabilities and the elderly. Businesses have slowly been coming on board with Social Security to offer special rates and discounts for Golden Citizens; several banks and companies offer designated lines or even special seated areas to ensure their comfort. This type of premiere service is not mandated. So, the advocacy continues to improve the quality of life for the elderly.

 

Ix-Chel Poot

“You need to pay attention to older persons; because today it is them, tomorrow it is going to be you and that is what all Belizeans need to keep in mind.”

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