[OP-ED] The silent pains
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It is clear that life expectancy is higher today than it was before, and that science is taking steps every day to improve the conditions of human beings and prevent diseases. It is also clear that social and economic gaps represent obstacles that prevent these indicators from improving in many countries, including a high percentage of Latin America and the Caribbean.
However, there is one population that does not receive the attention it deserves for the significant contribution it has made to society: the elderly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the third age begins at the age of 60 and the fourth at the age of 80.
It is as if it were a fate or doom in our countries, retirement or reaching those ages means to stop being a protagonist of social and economic development, ignoring their expertise in all fields. The State cares little or nothing about this reality and forgets that longer life expectancy means more years of social and work isolation.
In addition to the ailments of illness and physical deterioration, there is also the silent pain caused by mental disorders. This is the result of going from a permanent activity to a compelled sedentary lifestyle.
Research centers and higher education institutions that offer academic programs related to welfare, such as the Colombian School of Rehabilitation, have the responsibility to identify and propose actions to society, states and the private sector to effectively overcome this condition.
There are enough investigations on the evaluation of what is happening. Therefore, the step that must be taken is the implementation of public policies that assume the responsibility of defending and bringing to light the importance of older adults in all environments. Have you forgotten that many heads of state and government of the world are part of this population? There are also scientists, writers, teachers, artists and men and women from other fields who have no retirement age limit and continue to contribute to the world with their knowledge and experience.
In many ancient groups in the Americas, age and experience are highly valued. Elders are often seen as repositories of knowledge and wisdom, and they are given an esteemed position in society. However, in today’s urban world, this traditional view of aging is often challenged. Even in the labor market, age limits have been imposed to fill vacancies.
In today’s world, without pretending to generalize, many families have practically condemned their elders to forgetfulness, loneliness and lack of affection. In this situation, they suffer the silent pain that is related to mental health. In other cases, due to poverty itself, their living conditions are poor, unworthy and grief-stricken. This is where the state’s presence is needed to save them, to prevent them from surviving with jobs that put them at risk and living in disaster-prone areas.
The life cycle of the older adult is characterized as a period in which the human being integrates all his potential and capacity, from reflection and the choice of occupations that give meaning to his life story. Therefore, although for most of them, the traditional work-life may have ended with retirement, there are many other ways to contribute to their family and society. This can be done through a variety of activities, such as arts and crafts. The intergenerational gap is reduced with the participation of older adults in these occupational activities, which offer the possibility of strengthening the social environment from the wisdom of life stories, knowledge and experiences.
Welfare is not enough to give a voice and recognition to the elderly population. They must be listened to, they must participate in the decisions that benefit them. In short, there is much to be done.
(*) PhD in Pedagogy. Headmaster of the Colombian School of Rehabilitation. [email protected]