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Last week Thursday His Excellency Charles Angelo Savarin, the President of the Commonwealth of Dominica, officially opened the Month of the Elderly, an annual period when the nation focuses some attention on the status of older persons in our communities.

President Savarin did not say it, and probably he could not as Head of State, but the truth is the situation affecting older persons in Dominica is as bad as it has ever been. The reason for this is obvious. The economy of Dominica, despite the administration's proclamations, is terrible due to a combination of natural disasters such as Tropical Storm Erika, the world economy, pervasive corruption and decades of poor planning and implementation of programmes and projects.

Social scientists contend that when an economy underperforms the effect is felt most severely by the poor and the elderly-poor.

"It's not the cost of living that's really the problem here…It's the cost of trying to stay alive. Things like the cost of food, housing, and other day-to-day necessities will certainly contribute to fiscal hardship… but they'll be nothing compared to the cost of health care", says the America-based website: The States & Localities in an article entitled "Poverty among seniors getting harder to ignore". That statement is applicable to elder persons in the United States of America but it is also extremely pertinent to rural and urban areas here in Dominica.

In his speech delivered on the State-owned DBS radio President Savarin congratulated the Dominica Council on Ageing, the main organisers of the Month of the Elderly, for its work so far on raising awareness of the status of older persons in our communities. Because of DCA's advocacy Dominicans are much more aware of issues confronting elder persons such as the widespread and abhorrent abuse of older persons.

The DCA brought that level of abuse to the fore at a regional conference that it held last November at the Fort Young Hotel in Roseau, entitled "Ageing, Elderly Abuse and the Rights of Older Persons". Since then we have not heard much about the issue but there's no doubt that the scourge of elderly abuse is a major agenda item for the council. Undoubtedly, that problem must be confronted with all the resources at the command of the state.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that the core element in elder abuse is the trust that is often violated by relatives, caregivers, friends, community workers and professionals. As an anecdotal on the issue, a few months ago the SUN's court reporter told the harrowing story of an elderly woman who was being sexually abused by the very man from whom she was calling out for help; he was raping her but she could not see her abuser. There's also the story of a Roseau woman whose house and property were taken over by a man who claimed to be her husband. Undoubtedly, the DCA has heard of many such incidents of elder abuse, probably enough to fill a large folder.

But the question is: what is being done to curb the practice and how can the State move to apprehend and prosecute persons who abuse elder persons. The point is if there are no laws to protect elder persons from all forms of abuse then the Attorney General's office must move quickly to have these laws enacted.

However, the theme for the observance of the Month of the Elderly does not directly address the issue of elderly abuse but that aspect of the problem is implied in the theme : "Seniors and Youth: Building Age friendly Communities".

Specifically, age friendly communities are expected to respond to the needs of the rapidly growing ageing population, locally and worldwide, because more and more people are living longer lives. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are about 600 million persons aged 60 and above in the world today; that figure is expected to double by 2025 and will exceed two billion by 20150, in just about 34 years from today.

Hence, policy makers and planners must construct buildings and structures that are age friendly since the vast majority of our citizens will be in the old-age bracket.

Age friendly communities in the Dominican context therefore mean better sidewalks in our towns and villages where older people can walk without fear of falling and injuring themselves. Over the past few months we have heard many stories of older person tumbling and falling on Roseau's abominable sidewalks and unhealthy gutters.

Age friendly communities also mean that engineers and architects and builders must design buildings that make elevators and automatic doors mandatory in the construction of public buildings. But most importantly, Dominican's general attitude to elder persons must change if the country is to become an age friendly society. Our people must recognise that seniors have a lot more to offer and it is the responsibility of the State to protect and defend the rights of older persons. If the relatives of older persons will not take up their responsibilities then the State must coerce them to do so.

As usual activities for the observance of the Month of the Elderly end with the International Day of Older Persons on 1st October. To raise awareness of the prejudice that seniors face in all societies throughout the world, the theme for the 2016 event is "Take a Stand against Ageism" which President Savarin, quoting the UN, described in his address as being "everyday yet heart-breaking".


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