Former Chairman of the National Assistance Board of Barbados calls for a Department of Ageing and Elder Affairs

  • Time for:A Department of Aging and Elder Affairs.”

I was extremely happy during the recent St. John By-election, when Mara Thompson said that she was going to focus on matters relating to seniors, as one of her areas of priority. I would now wish to advise her not to spend too much time with those who seem to have convinced themselves, that “matters relating to seniors” is setting-up a ‘Recreational Activities Programme,’ where older persons would come each day to do craft. There is much more to it than that!

Henderson N. Bovell - Former Chairman, National Assistance Board

This is the same error, that the discriminatory “National Assistance Act’ makes, that is to assume – that all seniors are poor and needy. I think now is the appropriate time for the commencement of a number of serious conversations on matters relating to “population aging and its relationship to development.” I have long been of the view that one of our national priorities should be to change the vulnerability of persons in old age, as much as we must recognise that old age or being a senior citizen, is the outcome of a process, which starts at birth: “aging.” It is why I totally agree that Barbados is a society and not just an economy. You must therefore understand my disappointment that anyone would feel that policies and programmes for seniors are bringing older persons to a facility, just to do craft.

I have long argued that the National Assistance Board, as we know it, should be transformed into a modern “Department of Aging and Elder Affairs,” with core functions of: (a) Quality of Life Investment, as a primary socialization intervention strategy, (b) Retirement training planning and counselling as a mandatory national strategic objective, (c) Quality of Life Enrichment, to keep people active after retirement and as they age (d) the promotion of good health and wellness, healthy active and productive aging (e) elder abuse prevention (f) end of life care and estate planning, also as an elder abuse prevention strategy (g) Community life enrichment, for person who did not adequately prepare for retirement (h) Quality home and residential care (i) the appropriate care and treatment of centenarians, and, (j) the promotion of quality long life as a national strategic objective.

I am therefore a little curious why the DLP purports to be interested in the well-being of seniors but does not seem to be doing enough (for example) so that members of BARP can get their money out of Clico! Why – despite all the talk about senior citizens and their care – did the DLP increase bus fares to $2 without increasing the $15 Travel Allowance, which Home Care Workers and Team Leader at the National Assistance Board, get? Home Helpers are those wonderful workers who go all across Barbados taking care of this countries senior citizen. With even the DLP accepting that the cost of living is unacceptably high in Barbados, why now punish those home care workers in their pockets by making it a cost to them to care for this country’s senior citizens? How can that be fair?

And what about those senior citizens who roofs blew off in October, last year- yet up to now – some of them have to hope it does not rain, lest they will get drenched?

The point I am making is that there must not be a disconnect between what the Government is saying, as regards senior citizens, and what it is doing or failing to do on their behalf, especially given the DLP’s manifesto commitment to: “protect seniors in their golden years.”

This brings me to the issue of “Population Aging.” It is no secret that sustaining a growing older population is the responsibility of everyone from the Government, to the private sector, to individuals themselves, especially since as Barbadians are living longer, they must be encouraged to plan in order to better care of themselves throughout lives.

With people living longer, it is also important that Barbadians are encouraged to prepare financially by saving and investing more now and by working longer and staying active as they age. It is also important for persons to take responsibility for their health by adopting healthy habits early in life and maintaining them throughout life.

Population aging could therefore raise many issues for policy makers, chief among which is the issue of providing affordable health care for older persons. It would therefore seem that the challenges being presented by a growing aging population must be urgently address, especially since in both developed and developing countries; chronic diseases are significant and costly causes of disability reduced productivity and reduced quality of life. That is why wellness and aging programme was conceptualised.

  • National Consultation on Population Aging

I was of the view and remain committed to the notion that in order to effectively focus national attention on the need for the implementation of effective strategies to seriously tackle generational poverty; break the cycle of vulnerability in old age and reduce the incidence of lifestyle diseases, while promoting wealth-creation, wellness and productive aging – the establishment of Wellness and Active Aging Promotion Clubs at schools; workplaces and within communities across Barbados – was necessary. You must therefore understand my total displeasure that no mention is ever made of the fact that it was me who conceptualised Barbados’ wellness and active aging programme as well as the Retirement training planning and counselling initiative, or, that the wellness programme in schools, was my initiative. Ask Reginald Farley or Anthony Wood!

In fact, the Health and Wellness Programme is even much bigger than many think. I know, because I conceptualised it and others know too, because I gave them some of the documents and explained it to them. Lynette Eastmond, Joey Harper, Joseph Atherley, Jerome Walcott, Clyde Griffith and others – know this to be truth.

This country must now have a number of serious conversations in relation to seniors and old age. We must have serious conversations about things like Reversed Mortgages, long term care planning as well as whether we need a protocol on the appropriate treatment of centenarians and whether we are mature enough as a country and a people – to commence serious conversations about having a credible and independent value of the assets of seniors and using any such to pay for their care.

Essentially, therefore, there must be a deliberate policy objective to have the issue of “aging” integrated into all sectors and to cause our country to focus on individual lifelong development; multi-generational communication and the interrelationship between population aging and development. We must promote aging mainstreaming and re-define the way aging is viewed in Barbados, while ensuring that all policies and programmes formulated for older persons – meet international best practices. A well and appropriately staffed: “Department of Aging and Elder Affairs,” would be a step in the right direction. All of this is necessary because some see an older or aging population as a burden on the state. I see seniors as national treasures.

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