Caring for the Elderly

Caring for the ElderlyCaring for the Elderly

The development process of the ‘National Plan for the Elderly’ has been completed and is expected to be ratified by the Supreme Welfare Council, said Farid Barati Sadeh, head of the Secretariat of National Council on Older People affiliated to the State Welfare Organization.

“Developing the document was a time-consuming process and was undertaken in collaboration with national and international experts,” Mehr News Agency quoted him as saying. The details will emerge once the plan is approved.

He pointed to the ‘National Program for Health Care of the Elderly’ which was approved earlier by the Health Ministry, and said it will be implemented alongside the strategic plan for the elderly, which focuses on the welfare and social security of senior citizens.

It is worth mentioning that a 108-page report ‘Population Aging in Iran’ published by the UNFPA, the UN population agency, in cooperation with the University of Tehran and the Statistical Research and Training Center in 2014, said that the fast growing numbers of the elderly should be seen as “a warning to social planners and policymakers.”

“The growing population of the elderly is not to be assumed as a social threat or burden. However, it is necessary to develop comprehensive, coherent and targeted plans based on scientific studies and thorough knowledge to be implemented effectively to ensure qualitative and quantitative improvement in the life of the elderly.”

It pointed out that “one of the challenges for institutions and organizations active in the field of elderly care is the lack of infrastructure for payment of old age insurance costs (basic and supplementary), which in turn causes problems for establishment and development of various types of services and elderly care; such as home care, assisted living, adult day care centers, and nursing homes.”

The report said activities regarding elderly health and quality of life lacked “a strategic program in the draft of the National Strategic Plan for the Elderly.” Furthermore, what is foreseen and prepared by the State Welfare Organization in this framework in terms of who receives benefits of basic insurance coverage is limited to the elderly living with disabilities and in need. Such limitations in the coverage of supplementary insurance translate into restricted opportunities for the elderly to benefit from support.

 Gender Imbalances

Sadeh said in the strategic plan, efforts have been made to fix the gender imbalances for the elderly in employment in the social, economic and health sectors. The employment rate among the elderly shows a significant difference between males and females aged 65 plus. The economic participation rate for men in this age group is 37.2%, while the rate is 5.1% for women.

Special wards for the elderly in all hospitals have been envisaged, as well as a comprehensive healthcare system.

Currently people over 60 make up 8.1% of the total population of 80 million. The annual population growth rate for the general population is less than 1.2%, while the annual growth rate for those aged 60-65 is 6%. Population data says the number of senior citizens over the age of 60 is estimated to increase to 15.5 million by 2025 and 25.9 million by 2050. The average life expectancy for both men and women is expected to increase to 70 by 2020, according to the SWO.

Further, the number of elderly women who are living alone (30%) is significantly higher than men (6%). High age gap in marriage (men are older and die sooner than their spouses who are much younger), longer life expectancy of women, low remarriage rate among women after the death of spouse or divorce, are the reasons.

At present, 70% of older people live with their families, 23% with their children and 7% live alone (due to various reasons including death of spouse or divorce).  Around 10,000-12,000 live in nursing homes.

 Access to Data Limited

The UNFPA report further stated that in order to embark upon any kind of planning in the field of ageing and the affairs of the elderly it is necessary to carry out studies in all dimensions of their family life, social life, health and quality of life.

“Unfortunately, the only collected data on the situation of the elderly that are limited to health-related variables are available for two years, 1998 and 2002. As these studies were not comprehensive and contain outdated data/information, and since the Ministry of Health conducted these studies, they lack comprehensive data on other non-health related and non-medical aspects.”

Moreover, data collected in the later waves of these studies carried out in 2012-13, including during the population and health data collection program, have not been made accessible and available to researchers. Also researchers have very limited access to data on family expenditures as the Statistical Center of Iran does not provide access to such facts and figures.

Access to normal data collected by the SCI is almost always a colossal task. The unusual ways of the center has always been censured by economists, planners, social scientists and academia and is not limited to any one sphere. The SCI is the top organization, after the Central Bank of Iran, tasked with collecting and dispensing key facts and figures but its performance over the years leaves much to be desired.

Whether the assessments by experts who wrote the report have been incorporated in the strategic plan will become clear once it is made public with details. Indeed, what policy and decision makers have in store for the ageing population remains to be seen!