DCOA flyer  for Month of the Elderly 2021
DCOA flyer for Month of the Elderly 2021

Some time ago a senior citizen who lived in the Roseau Valley fell, knocked his head on the edge of his table and since he could not move to seek help, he bled to death. His daughter who usually visited him three times a week found his decomposing body on the floor where he fell.

That is the sad predicament of hundreds of senior citizens who live alone and, in fact, many of them do live a really lonely life.

That's where the use of modern technology comes in for senior citizens, to help reduce loneliness and alone-ness. In addition, the use of modern digital technology saves lives.

We cannot help thinking that if that old man of the Roseau Valley had the use of some sort of medical alert system his life could have been saved.

But what is a medical alert system?

A medical alert system, to quote Christopher Norman from the website "Caring .com" is sometimes referred to as personal emergency response system. They are wearable devices that make it easy for seniors to get the help they need in the event of a fall or another medical emergency. There are two basic types of devices: classic in-home systems and mobile units.

In-home units provide emergency protection within a limited range of your home and yard.

An in-home unit includes a stationary base station and a wearable component. The home base contains a powerful speaker and microphone that allows you to speak with an operator at the monitoring centre.

The second part of the system, the wearable component, is a small button that is typically worn around the neck or on the wrist. In the event of an emergency, you push the button, which activates the help function of the base. If you are not able to communicate with the operator for any reason, they will put your emergency plan into place. Depending on your personal preferences and needs, this may involve calling loved ones or sending emergency responders to your address.

Dominican organisations and institutions are usually reluctant to the collection of statistics, so we expect failure in our search for figures on the number of senior citizens whose lives could have been saved by the use of a medical alert system. Norman mentions many types in his article: "The Best Medical Alert Systems of 2021".

So, as the Dominica Council on Ageing (DCOA) observes September as "Month of the Elderly" with the theme: "Older Persons-Embracing the Digital Age" we suggest that the DCOA's executive, in conjunction with DIGICEL and FLOW, take some definitive action to introduce, or expand, medical alert systems to Dominica's older persons and in the process save lives.

The DCOA's theme ("Older Persons-Embracing the Digital Age") is an adaptation of the United Nation's theme for International Day for Older Persons 2021 ("Digital Equity for All Ages").

The UN has stated that it is concerned that older persons are naturally less digitally connected than youth who were born into the digital age.

And that the accelerated digitalization during the COVID-19 pandemic has further emphasized these inequalities, as many older persons struggled to access essential goods and services - from online vaccination appointment registrations to pensions, food and medication during lockdowns - if they could not access them online. This current dependence on digital technologies during the pandemic has, therefore, focused policy attention on the importance of digital inclusion of the elderly.

These policies, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) should include: ensure equal access to goods and services involving digital technology; enhance digital literacy to reduce the digital skills gaps; leverage the potential of digital technologies for active and healthy ageing and ensure the protection of human rights of older persons in the digital era.

As you may recall, in September of each year Dominica acknowledges the strength and survivorship of the elderly through the observance of a Month of the Elderly and 2021 is no exception. Thus, the Dominica Council on Ageing (DCOA) as it did in 2020 has presented a COVID19- influenced programme to celebrate ageing, to highlight its programme of activities and, we sincerely hope, to bring to the fore the serious issues affecting older persons in our society.

One month is, of course, more than enough time to talk about how shameful many of us should feel for treating older people the way that we do. And as we said in an earlier editorial, the Month of the Elderly could be a period when we remind ourselves that each one of us must make a greater effort at treating older persons much better than we currently do.

Foremost among our catharsis as a nation is the curbing of abuse of the elderly in our communities.

Abusing older persons is not only a Dominican abomination, it is a worldwide complaint. A report produced by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) reports that older persons complain about excessive abuse, usually by relatives who engage in often violent verbal and physical fights about houses and land and bank accounts. Older persons are also neglected and do not feel that society and family members respect them.

But in spite of a large amount of work that is still left to be done in the recognition of elderly persons, make no mistake that, mainly through the work of the DCOA over many years, there has been greater awareness of the issues affecting older persons in Dominica. Dominicans are now much more aware of the various forms of abuse of the elderly-sexual, physical, emotional and, most importantly, neglect and loneliness.

Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that we talk too much and act too little about the problems affecting elder persons. Help Age International has stated that older persons face a number of issues including chronic illness, limited access to health care and medication, poor housing, lack of economic security and livelihoods, social isolation, neglect and abuse. And the situation is getting worse. As Dominica grapples with a dying economy caused by poor economic planning and execution, the impact of a struggling world economy, the devastating effects of natural disasters such as Tropical Storm Erika (2015) Hurricanes David (1979) and Maria (2017) and now COVID-19 we must acknowledge that elders face even a greater threat than the rest of the population.

Let's not only talk about it- but also let us really help older persons embrace the digital age.