Barbados’ population is ageing at an accelerated pace. In fact, this country is home to the highest percentage of persons aged 65 and over in the English-speaking Caribbean.
The island is also leading the rest of the region, with more than 10 per cent of its population classified as elderly.
Additionally, statistics garnered in 2009 indicate that persons over 65 years of age accounted for some 13.7 per cent of the population, with the Barbados Statistical Service projecting that by 2025, older persons could make up some 20.4 per cent of the population.
The old age dependency ratio of 20.7 per 100 in 2010 is also expected to increase to 33.3 per 100 by 2025.
As a result of this data, it is essential that persons are aware of the measures they can take in order to ensure that they remain healthy and are able to live out their “golden years” with little or no ailments.
Senator Professor Emeritus Dr. Henry Fraser, has a formula for such persons to enjoy a better quality of life as they grow older. According to him, “activity, equanimity and humour” are the keys to active ageing and a consequent long life.
Speaking during a lecture organised by the National Assistance Board (NAB) to commemorate International Day of Older Persons at the Solidarity House recently, Professor Fraser advised seniors to get moving in any way that they can. “Walk, swim, exercise, go to the gym, play table tennis or road tennis, but move,” he advised.
He also urged persons to choose healthier options when eating, pointing out that foods high in sugar and salt were bad for the body. “Eat more fibre, plain yoghurt, fish and fruit,” he advised, while dismissing the idea that eating healthy was more expensive than eating junk food. “The price of four bananas is the same as a packet of chips,” the Professor argued.
Peace of mind, or equanimity, is also a way to age healthily. Using the words to the popular song “Don”t Worry; Be Happy”, Professor Fraser said that persons needed to make a conscious decision to be happy.
“Learn to handle stress; have a clear conscience, because guilt is terrible; observe nature, because this soothes you; have faith in God and an awareness of the force that gives meaning to life and provides comfort; and have a good marriage, as statistics prove that marriage promotes longevity, especially in men”, he counselled.
As it relates to humour, older persons were advised to “have a good belly laugh”, as this could be a good relief for pain. They were also told to: “organise your life; be kind, thoughtful and generous to others; remove cross words from your mind; and have a strong social and family support”.
The Senator also urged seniors to become part of one of the many recreational day care centres designed especially for them across the island, where they can spend their days in a positive social setting.
Using the day care centre located at the St. Barnabas Anglican Church as an example, he stated that such centres were ideal and made a phenomenal difference. “A day care centre is much better than lying in the Geriatric Hospital; it is the answer for senior citizens to keep active and play useful roles,” he asserted.
The Government of Barbados is also playing its part to ensure that our population ages more actively. It has developed a National Policy on Ageing which is grounded in the philosophy of equal opportunity, equal access, inclusion and active ageing, and seeks to promote the participation of older persons by removing barriers and establishing an enabling environment.
Its priority areas and recommendations are financial and economic security, health and healthcare, the physical and built environment, the social environment, legislation and research.