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Aging Nepal needs urgent attention
Publication Date : 12-12-2013
The proportion of older people worldwide is increasing at more than three times the overall population growth rate.
Advancements in medical technologies and health awareness have resulted in increased life expectancy leading to this demographic transformation.
According to a population projection done by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the population aged 65 and over will outnumber children under five years old in the next five years.
In this context, health agencies including WHO are now focusing on promoting healthy aging and independent living for old people.
Nepal is not an exception to this global demographic transformation. According to the national population and housing census of 2011, the population growth rate has declined to 1.40 per annum from 2.25 per annum 2001. Life expectancy at birth has increased from 58.22 years to 66.1 years from 2001 to 2011.
Traditionally, taking care of the elderly has been the responsibility of the family, especially the female members.
However, studies show that with equal opportunities in education and the workplace for women, the dynamics of family and social responsibilities is changing in recent years where more and more women are joining the workforce outside of the household.
As co-residence with adult sons or daughters has significantly declined as a result of increased urbanisation and migration, the younger generation is now not able to look after their parents in traditional ways.
According to the 2011 census, one in every four households has reported at least one member being absent or living out of the country. The highest proportion of the absent population is from the 15 to 24 years age group.
Consequently, elderly people who are physically, emotionally and financially dependent on family support have already begun to feel helpless and unsecure.
Because of the older people’s experience, potential expertise and emotional attachment to their family, they can make a very important contribution to their own family and society by providing guidance and consultation in social activities and by assisting in family life such as looking after young children. Therefore, the older population should not be considered as a burden.
While the contribution of the elderly to subsidise the financial burden on the family and society cannot be underestimated, an increased life span is also related to chronic health problems like dementia, strokes, cancer, osteoporosis and associated bone fractures. Elderly people are more vulnerable to communicable diseases which are usually fatal.
With an increasing aging population, the health care sector requires an appropriately trained health care workforce. This includes training health care workers in old-age care and preventing and managing age-related health problems.
In Nepal, the current geriatric care module lacks attention to medical, nursing or allied health care courses. In today’s context, where families are unable to care for the elderly and the current population projection indicates increased healthcare demands, a modified elderly care policy for a sustainable social support system has become an urgent requirement for physical and mental security of our respectable elderly population.