Ladies and Gentlemen,
When the United Nations General Assembly took its landmark decision thirteen
years ago to set aside a special day for older persons, it was acknowledging,
not the existence of a new phenomenon – since ageing is inevitable and has been
with us since the dawn of time – but the impact of ageing on development and the
urgent need to transform our societies to respond to the challenges posed by
this “greying of the population.” So it was that October 1 was designated as
International Day of Older Persons ; With this new visibility and sensitivity
has come an increase in research and programming on ageing by international
agencies, national and regional governments and local non-governmental
organizations. Our own National Council of and for Older Persons and our
Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs and Gender Relations have
taken up the challenge of actively engaging our older population in contributing
to and enhancing their quality of life.
A fundamental component of older persons’ quality of life is their health and
well-being, and so it comes as no surprise that the theme chosen for this year’s
observance is “Advancing Health and Well being for Older Persons.” Indeed, the
2003 Regional Strategy for the Implementation in Latin America and the Caribbean
of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing has made the fostering of
health and well-being during old age, one of its three main priority areas – the
other two being older persons and development, and the creation of an enabling
and supportive environment. But while governments, policy makers and community
activists work towards providing this enabling and supportive environment,
through national legislation, programmes and policies on health, it is also the
responsibility of the individual to contribute to his/her health and well being
in his/her senior years.
The ageing process is influenced by lifestyle, environmental factors,
healthcare, disease and genetics. We may not be able to do much about our
genetic makeup which may predispose us to certain illnesses and diseases, but
this can be satisfactorily managed. Changes are inevitable as we age, but
disease and disability are not. Health in old age is usually a result of the
manner in which we live our lives during childhood and early adulthood, and
research and experience have shown that one can postpone illness and disability
if one is physically, socially and intellectually active in one’s senior years.
The new emphasis and focus on managing the ageing process is the concept of
“active ageing” : a concept that embraces not merely physical activity, but
activities that keep the mind active. It is true that as we get older, our minds
are ever bigger warehouses of thoughts, feelings, memories, worries and other
distractions that can get in the way of action, but they are also an immense
storehouse of experience that we can draw on – and share. We need therefore to
break out of this cultural mindset that frowns on the active, energetic senior;
the mindset that would relegate most seniors to a life of isolation in the home.
Interventions aimed at promoting social activity or providing mental stimulus to
older adults should never be dismissed as being too late. For older people who
are lonely feel more tired, have a lower opinion of their own health, visit the
doctor or other health provider more often and take more medicines than those
who do not experience loneliness. Our older persons therefore should be
encouraged to commit to trying new experiences, to sharing with younger persons
in an intergenerational setting, to keeping their brains in good shape. Again,
studies have shown that people who live longer healthier lives are content with
their life and involved in their communities.
Advancing health and well-being for older persons should be a national concern.
The youth of today, who constitute the largest group of young people ever, will
be the older persons of the year 2050, according to the Secretary General of the
United Nations. They will make up then the largest group of older persons ever.
It is therefore in their interest to adopt now the healthy personal behaviours –
including physical activity and a balanced diet, as well as health practices –
particularly sexual and reproductive health practices – that are conducive to a
better quality of life during old age. The middle generation who make up in the
main today’s policy makers have an obligation to develop a health system that
emphasizes the promotion of health, the prevention of disease and the provision
of equitable care with dignity for our older citizens. The older persons among
us will be pleased to know that they are now being recognized as a “new force
for development.” We need you however to be a healthy, active force to lead us
to meet the challenge of ageing in the twenty-first century.
As St. Lucia observes International Day for Older Persons, I urge you to give
serious thought to the issue of advancing health and well being for today’s
older persons, and to start today to adopt the type of healthy lifestyle that
will enhance our quality of life when we too enter our senior years. A healthy
nation is a wealthy nation – rich in a productive human resource pool, healthy
minds in healthy bodies. We need to ensure that the ageing of our society does
not become a burden, but instead that it adds value and opportunities for
development through an actively engaged older population. On this International
Day, let us make this one of our main concerns.