Measuring the value of old age: A hidden treasure
The International day of older persons was celebrated on 1 October and the theme this year was “Stepping into the Future: Tapping the talents, contributions and participation of older persons in society.” CARTA cohort 7 fellow Eniola Olubukola Cadmus research focuses on the care of older persons. She has also has been ruminating on a research idea to quantify contributions of older persons in the family and society. The importance of this, she adds, stems from the fact that the government in many low and middle income countries do not prioritize provisions for older persons because they are considered a burden. She sheds more light on this issue.
Population ageing has been occurring at an exceptional rate in many countries globally. Initially, the phenomenon was reported to occur mostly in high income countries, however, recent estimates suggest that low and middle income countries are also experiencing an increase in proportion of persons aged 60 years and above. In fact, by the year 2050, these countries will account for about 80% of the world’s older persons.
Oftentimes, old age is associated with multiple chronic morbidity as well as increased functional decline, with associated health related cost. However, this view of ageing need not necessarily dominate assumptions about old age and older persons. In actual fact, research has shown that there is no universal old age. For instance, an individual aged 80 years and above may have better functional status than a 40 year old. As such the functional decline with increasing age is not a ‘one size fits all’. Therefore, efforts must be made to provide for every individual along the life course.
Older persons are often seen as liabilities who do not contribute to the economy but rather drain the economy and constitute a huge burden in terms of cost. This negative ageism is partly responsible for the inertia on the side of the government to make adequate provisions in terms of policy and services to cater for the needs of this group of individuals. In addition, most research to date have focused on quantifying the cost of care of older persons including cost of lost hours of work by family members when they have to take their old relatives to the hospital, cost of drugs and payment for health services [3–5]. However, there is evidence which suggests that while older persons especially the middle-old (70-79 years) and the very old (80 years and above) are less likely to be employed and contribute financially to the economy, they play supportive roles within their families and society at large which have hitherto not been quantified. 
The 2017 theme for the International Day of Older persons, “Stepping into the Future: Tapping the talent, contributions and participation of older persons in the society” is a clarion call to look inwards and see what more we can benefit from the older populace. This is a more viable approach to answering the problems of our aging population than waiting for governments globally, especially those in low and middle income countries, to suddenly wake up to their duties to adequately cater and provide for the needs of older persons.
There are a number of ways in which participation of older persons in the community and society in which they reside may be facilitated and structured. For instance, in the United Kingdom, there is documentation of the savings accrued from volunteer work by older persons in terms of monetary cost as well as personnel. Examples of volunteer activities reported include provision of home support for recuperating individuals after their discharge from the hospital and leadership roles in church and other social activities. In many instances, older persons saw the act of volunteering as an opportunity to pay back for previously enjoyed services when they themselves were incapacitated. In addition, the older volunteers saw the act as an opportunity to pay forward into the future for services they hope to enjoy when they may be in need. Furthermore, volunteering was shown to contribute to physical and psychological well-being as well as the overall quality of life of the older persons.
Coming nearer home, in the typical African setting such as Nigeria, older persons are a driving force behind many social activities. They perform specific roles at many social events such as weddings, engagement and burial ceremonies. In fact, in certain parts of the country, absence of an older persons for particular rites at events is considered unacceptable. There is therefore a need to quantify the contributions which older persons make in the society and harness opportunities for the benefit of the older persons and community at large.
- United Nations. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division [Internet]. Vol. United Nat, World Population Ageing. 2015. Available from: http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/ageing/WPA2015_Report.pdf%5Cnwww.un.org/…/population/…/WPA2009/WPA2009
- Cook J. The socio-economic contribution of older people in the UK. 2011;15(4):141–6.
- Heinrich S, Rapp K, Rissmann U, Becker C, K??nig HH. Cost of falls in old age: A systematic review. Osteoporos Int. 2010;21(6):1. Cadmus EO, Owoaje ET. Prevalence and Correlates.
- Luppa M, Heinrich S, Matschinger H, Sandholzer H, Angermeyer MC, König HH, et al. Direct costs associated with depression in old age in Germany. J Affect Disord. 2008;105(1–3):1. Cadmus EO, Owoaje ET. Prevalence and Correlates.
- Haentjens P, Lamraski G, Boonen S. Costs and consequences of hip fracture occurrence in old age: An economic perspective. Disabil Rehabil [Internet]. 2005;27(18–19):1. Cadmus EO, Owoaje ET. Prevalence and Correlates. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09638280500055529
- Cadmus EO, Owoaje ET, Akinyemi OO. Older Persons’ Views and Experience of Elder Abuse in South Western Nigeria. J Aging Health [Internet]. 2015;27(4). Available from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0898264314559893
Edited by Eunice Kilonzo, CARTA Communications Officer.