First Look

Jamaican population ageing rapidly

PROComm | 2013-05-16 00:00:00

The Jamaican population (as part of the Caribbean population) is ageing rapidly, reflecting a worldwide phenomenon. The majority (71.7%) of our senior citizens own their own homes, and most report being financially independent. Chronic diseases are a serious problem among this age group, defined as 60 years and older by the United Nations. Among Jamaican seniors, 65.4% suffer from either diabetes (“sugar”) or hypertension (high blood pressure) and 22% have both.

These findings were shared by Professor Denise Eldemire Shearer, Director of the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre, at the third Anniversary Lifestyle Expo of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP). The event took place recently at the Chinese Benevolent Association on Old Hope Road, under the theme “Seniors Power on the Rise”.

The Professor, who chairs the CCRP, explained that these preliminary findings were from a recent study entitled “Ageing in Jamaica today and the implications” over a one year period, completed in 2012. It involved a survey of 2,943 seniors in Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Catherine and St. Thomas.  It was carried out by the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre, and funded by the National Health Fund. Primary aims of the study were to assess the health and social status of older persons in Jamaica, and to identify their needs.

Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used, including detailed questionnaires administered by trained interviewers, focus groups and blood samples taken from a sub-sample of 400. Those interviewed ranged in age from 60 to 103 years, with the group’s average age being 72.2 (± 8.9) years.

Professor Eldemire Shearer noted that population ageing (older persons becoming an increasingly larger proportion of the population) was taking place worldwide at an unprecedented and pervasive rate. Persons 60 years and older represented 8% of world population in 1950 and 10% in 2000, she noted, and were projected to account for 21% by 2050. In Jamaica, the elderly now constitute 11.3% of the population today, up from 5% in 1850, and are projected to rise to 25% by 2050.

“Population ageing brings a number of challenges related to health and welfare’” Professor Eldemire Shearer noted, “so documenting and understanding these are critical to the development of appropriate responses.”  The 2012 study was vitally important she added, as the first and only comprehensive epidemiological survey of the elderly in Jamaica had been carried out over 20 years ago, in 1990.

“There have been demographic, social and economic changes since then,” she pointed out, “Information is now needed on the currently prevailing situation, the new challenges and needs, the unaddressed gaps and emergent issues. If we fail to ascertain these, we seriously compromise the capacity to appropriately respond to issues and curtail overall national development and welfare improvement.”

The Professor told the CCRP members and friends that of those surveyed by the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre, 52% were female. In the group, 32.9% were single; 23.1% widowed; 6.8% divorced/separated and only 37.1% had a spouse (married or in common-law relationship). The majority had children alive – only 7.4% did not. Most (82.9%) enjoyed a good relationship with children, and more females than males had these good relationships.

Most of the seniors (72.0%) reported having only primary level education, while 17.0% reported having secondary/technical/vocational schooling, and 5.3% had been to university. Less than six percent (5.7%) reported no formal schooling.

The Professor pointed out that a number of ailments were showing an increase when the 2012 survey was compared to the 1990 one:

Prevalence of high blood pressure rose from 42.6 to 61.3%;
Diabetes – from 10.2% to 26.2%;
Stroke – from 5.1% to 8.2%;
Heart Disease – from 5.4% to 5.5%
Glaucoma – from 4.9% to 11.6%
The prevalence of arthritis decreased, however from 40.0% to 35.0%

In addition, 5% of those surveyed in 2012 reported suffering from cancer, 55.4% said they were bothered by joint pain and 21.7% had had falls within the previous 6 months. Of the latter, the majority (54.3%) had fallen at home. Injuries sustained over the past year were reported by 9.7% of the seniors surveyed. Of these, 74.8% had received medical care for their injuries, and more than half (53.6%) had been injured at home.

A total of 83.9% had seen a health care professional during the previous year. Roughly half (51.2%) indicated having a regular public doctor or clinic, while 55.9% indicated having a regular private doctor (not mutually exclusive). Most of those surveyed were able to function mentally: 11.0% were severely impaired and 38.5% had mild impairment. Less than one in 10 (8.7%) had hearing problems; 32.3% had eye problems, 7.5% had a physical disability; more than seventeen percent (17.5%) used assistive devices such as canes or walkers.

Professor Edemire Shearer reported that most of the seniors interviewed functioned well physically. Less than 1 in 100 (0.8%) were fully dependent regarding basic activities; 92.7% were independent in all basic functions (an increase over the 88.5% reported in the 1990 survey), and approximately 7.3% needed various levels of assistance.

Of those surveyed 98.3% had worked at some point in their lives. More than three quarters (75.8%) were retired while 24.2% reported still working or seeking employment. Interestingly more than one in five (21.6%) reported that they were still working; half of these full time. One in four (25.0%) reported volunteering activities. Asked how they planned for retirement 16.8% reported doing so with a health plan; 24.7% with savings, and 9.9% through investments. When asked about current sources of income, seniors reported that 13.5% were earning wages; 27.3% were receiving NIS payments; 48.5% were being assisted by their families; 8.2% were on the PATH programme; 15.4% had Jamaican Government pensions and 9.1% had private pensions.

Professor Eldemire Shearer urged persons to consider what their needs in old age would be, regarding financial independence, daily personal and community support, care givers and health requirements. This was especially important, she noted, for those who were single and lived alone.


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