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Government of Saint Lucia

 Address by Her Excellency Dame Pearlette Louisy for International Day of Older Persons

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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.


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