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Back to El envejecimiento; la exclusión silenciosa

Rafael Sanchez-Ostiz, Professor of Geriatrics, University of Navarra, Spain

Aging; the silent exclusion

Wed, 16 Jun 2010 07:12:42 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

I take advantage of this new calendar of international, world, local or regional days to try to raise some awareness. goal modest but essential given the dimension of the problem I am raising. In 2006, the United Nations declared June 15 as the "World Day for Elder Abuse Awareness"; it is a good time to reflect on some essential aspects regarding the relationship between aging and social exclusion, which have nothing to do with the latest news concerning the closure of illegal residences, which fortunately are the exception in a sector that has substantially improved the quality of care centers and services for the elderly.

When we talk about the elderly, we seem to think that the attention or focus is on geriatric residences or specialized services, although this population only accounts for about 5% of the population over 65 years of age (in Navarra, 110,000 people). The reality is that the vast majority of these people over 65 live at home. Of these, according to different national programs of study , 25% suffer from some form of dependency Degree , with the need for financial aid to carry out certain activities of daily living, which are mainly attended to by the family. On the other hand, nearly 20% live alone, a reflection not so much of a freely made decision, but the result of the society we are creating. And nearly 30% of this heterogeneous group can be considered to be on the poverty line, with an income of less than 600 € per month, as reflected in the latest programs of study carried out by Caritas and endorsed by Euroestat. Applying these figures to Navarre means that there are about 30,000 elderly people in status of vulnerability, that any imbalance produced by illness, extraordinary expense or decrease of income (we must not forget the proposed measures of cut and freezing of pensions), makes them face situations close to extreme poverty, social exclusion or even abuse, usually by public or private neglect of the responsibilities of care and attention.

In view of this status there is no other approach than to propose the principle of "zero tolerance", since being elderly does not mean being poor, dependent or "alone". Therefore, it seems essential to be able to deploy early detection strategies that allow us to anticipate situations that in many cases are preventable and increase the quality of life of the elderly. We have managed to live longer and live better, but we cannot and should not forget this reality.

In this task we have to be involved, first of all, the families themselves, social and health professionals, the different administrations, without forgetting civil society in the form of different associations or volunteer activities. Together we can implement programs and strategies for detection, protection and prevention. There is no point in looking the other way; there are thousands of people in situations of vulnerability, who normally do not demonstrate with banners - they are not present in the media, which is very focused on younger groups - but who are an essential part of our Mediterranean social model , in which the family is the natural space in which several generations live together, where dependent people are cared for or are safe. We have a lot at stake as a society if we do not defend those who cannot defend themselves. Moreover, we must encourage intergenerational relationships in the family, school, neighborhood or City Hall as a way of not disassociating ourselves from each other, enriching each other and moving towards a "society for all ages".

Finally, and although we often look to the Anglo-Saxon or Nordic models as references in the care of the elderly, we are seeing how these same models are being revised and to our surprise, they approach Mediterranean countries to look for the secret of a good quality of life associated with aging, and discover with astonishment, how the family is the backbone in which several generations coexist. It is time to sound the alarm and call for responsibility and individual demand and on the other hand, to claim more active and ambitious policies from the different administrations, which allow so many families to continue doing a quiet and little recognized work, to continue increasing the quality of life of the most vulnerable people, the dependent, lonely and poor elderly people. It is really missing.