September 30, 2013

Global study: World not ready for aging population

By the year 2050, for the first time in history, seniors over the age of 60 will outnumber children under the age of 15.

By Kristen Gelineau
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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80-year-old Marianne Blomberg works out at a gym in Stockholm. The Swedish government has suggested people continue working beyond 65, a prospect Blomberg cautiously welcomes but warns should not be a requirement.

The Associated Press

That leaves Abdul Wasay struggling to survive. At 75, the former cook and blacksmith spends most of his day trying to sell toothbrushes and toothpaste on a busy street corner in Kabul’s main market. The job nets him just $6 a day — barely enough to support his wife. He can only afford to buy meat twice a month; the family relies mainly on potatoes and curried vegetables.

“It’s difficult because my knees are weak and I can’t really stand for a long time,” he says. “But what can I do? It’s even harder in winter, but I can’t afford treatment.”

Although government hospitals are free, Wasay complains that they provide little treatment and hardly any medicine. He wants to stop working in three years, but is not sure his children can support him. He says many older people cannot find work because they are not strong enough to do day labor, and some resort to begging.

“You have to keep working no matter how old you are — no one is rich enough to stop,” he says. “Life is very difficult.”

Many governments have resisted tackling the issue partly because it is viewed as hugely complicated, negative and costly — which is not necessarily true, says Silvia Stefanoni, chief executive of HelpAge International. Japan and Germany, she says, have among the highest proportions of elders in the world, but also boast steady economies.

“There’s no evidence that an aging population is a population that is economically damaged,” she says.

Prosperity in itself does not guarantee protection for the old. The world’s rising economic powers — the so-called BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — rank lower in the index than some poorer countries such as Uruguay and Panama.

However, the report found, wealthy nations are in general better prepared for aging than poorer ones. Sweden, where the pension system is now 100 years old, makes the top of the list because of its social support, education and health coverage, followed by Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada. The United States comes in eighth.

Sweden’s health system earns praise from Marianne Blomberg, an 80-year-old Stockholm resident.

“The health care system, for me, has worked extraordinarily well,” she says. “I suffer from atrial fibrillation and from the minute I call emergency until I am discharged, it is absolutely amazing. I can’t complain about anything — even the food is good.”

Still, even in an elder-friendly country like Sweden, aging is not without its challenges. The Swedish government has suggested people continue working beyond 65, a prospect Blomberg cautiously welcomes but warns should not be a requirement. Blomberg also criticized the nation’s finance minister, Anders Borg, for cutting taxes sharply for working Swedes but only marginally for retirees.

“I go to lectures and museums and the theater and those kinds of things, but I probably have to stop that soon because it gets terribly expensive,” she says. “If you want to be active like me, it is hard. But to sit home and stare at the walls doesn’t cost anything.”

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