Social isolation of elderly people in Africa

Posted on March 14, 2017 12:00 am

Scientific studies in Africa have documented the health impact of social isolation but there is very limited research on what programs work best, and for whom, to tackle the problem. It is estimated that 80% of older Africans are socially isolated, which results in insomnia, depression, a greater likelihood of developing dementia and elevated blood pressure, among other health problems. This has a reverberating effect on society, placing extra strain on carers, additional demands on health services, a reduced sense of community and a greater need for acute interventions by local governments, housing providers and other welfare services. Scientific evidence suggests the most effective programs are those that have an educational component, are targeted at specific groups and involve the recruitment of people from the same neighbourhood. If we have to mention several significant examples of progress after more than 50 years of independence, African countries should include increased life expectancy. Though a laggard by global standards, African countries have made great progress in enhancing life expectancy over the last decade. Africans nowadays can expect to live for 60 years on average, up from only 35 years in 1957 when Ghana declared its independence. It is of course an important achievement but African countries also should foresee the consequences of an ageing population. Additionally, African countries have contributed significantly to the accelerated growth of the elderly population worldwide. It is estimated that Africa will experience an elderly population boom in the next two decades.

Moreover, the experts have predicted that the percentage of Africans over 60 years old will reach 20 percent in 2045. Several countries have a greater number of elderly people than the national average, and Nigeria has the continent’€™s largest elderly population. Population ageing should be seen as a direct result of successes in development programs such as nutrition, housing, health, family planning, cleaner drinking water and sanitation that are crucial in reducing serious infections and preventing deaths among children. This phenomenon is commonly indicated by a declining birth rate and increased life expectancy, resulting in a situation where individuals aged 60 years and over are the fastest growing segment of the population. Moreover, the number of children is decreasing while the proportion of the productive population aged 20-50 years is increasing.However, the rapid growth of the elderly population also poses various challenges, such as the increasing number of people who suffer from various degenerative diseases including hypertension, dementia, heart and coronary diseases, cancer, diabetes mellitus type 2, osteoporosis and Alzheimer. Social isolation is equivalent to the health effects of smoking 15 cigarettes a day or consuming more than six alcoholic drinks daily.These will affect the quality of life of elderly people and will increase the cost of their health care in Africa. The issue of inadequate health and care services, lack of welfare provisions and legal frameworks that often do not specifically address elderly people are among the problems that we face on daily basis. In fact, although many African elderly people lead healthy, happy and active lives, there are many others who experience low quality of life and are often regarded as burdens on their family.

African also has millions of elderly people who are being neglected and have limited access to health care and other social services. As a result African countries should anticipate and adjust their policies and programs related to older people’€™s issues such as health care, social welfare, social security, employment, as well as investment, consumption and savings patterns. A strategic part of anticipating the ageing population is the need to design a population responsive policy to answer the current population trend, by considering the unique nature and needs of the older population. In my view, African governments and communities need to enact population influencing policies to promote active ageing to improve the wellbeing, health and participation of older people. Africa’s ageing population needs to be addressed by both the government and the general public. The role of researchers, activists and mass media is crucial in disseminating and advocating the issues associated with Indonesia’€™s ageing trend. Population ageing can contribute positively to Africa’€™s development if prepared. Couple of scientific studies indicate that African countries that will anticipate and harness the rich potential of an ageing population may obtain a longevity benefit as older people usually have accumulated skills, experience and wisdom and actually can continue to make valuable contributions to the nation and society for longer periods. Ultimately, African countries that will promote active ageing will have a competitive advantage over those that do not.There’s also need to recognise the potential of older people and ensure them a life of dignity and justice. Existing policies and programs should be improved, better coordinated and scaled up to reach more elderly people, particularly the neglected ones.Programs such as integrated health services posts for the elderly should be further developed and promoted.

Several countries like South Africa and Kenya are now establishing and promoting such program. Community participation is also emerging in the issue of population ageing. On the other side, many elderly people in Africa appear to be happy to continue working into old age. While many elderly people in developed world are put in nursing homes or cared for at home by family, the elderly in Africa are enjoying working past their golden years. Their situation was captured in a recent report that revealed many Africans work until they get old, the rate of depression among the elderly remains low. The report said that the rate of depression tended to increase with age. It suggests that the correlation between depression rates and age is much stronger in African countries where old adults retire early.Depression is due partly to psychosocial stressors such as loss, loneliness, and lack of social sup port and partly to increasing frailty and illness, according to the report.Raising educated children is also apparently one source of happiness for senior citizens in Africa.Meanwhile, poverty and depression rates are higher for older people in Africa who live separately from children living in the same area than for those who live with adult children or have migrant children living farther away.The most obvious fiscal risks are posed by pension, health, and long-term care systems, all of which are affected by ageing.The fiscal risks are compounded in many African countries because governments are pursuing rapid coverage expansion of health insurance and pensions and exploring more active public financing for long-term care.Also, labor income remains the dominant source of support for the elderly in Africa, often well into old age.Its very clear that old Africans are accustomed to facing difficulties with courage no matter how isolated or poor they are.

Contador Harrison