Recognizing Senior Resilience: Looking Beyond the Theme for the Month of the Elderly
If there is another term that is more abused in Dominica than "resilience" has been since Hurricane Maria we do not know what it is. Everyone's talking about resilience and many probably do not know what it really means.
But seriously, "resilience" has always been a difficult term to define and probably that aspect contributes to the uninhibited abuse of the term in post-Maria Dominica.
Measuring resilience is also problematic and thus we anticipate that some politicians will claim, sooner rather than later, that Dominica is much more resilient to climate change than the country has been since mom and dad went to secondary school. How would they measure that, we do not know.
But as we examine the theme for the Month of the Elderly: "Recognizing Senior Resilience" we ask ourselves, how do we define and then measure senior resilience? Are we saying that the ability of senior citizens to withstand decades-long battering and bruising by society, and even family members, and still living to see many more sunrises is a measure of resilience of our elderly? And is that a good thing, something that should make us proud? Or should we instead quantity resilience of older persons by measuring how much greater access that our elderly have to better housing, better health care, better nutrition and better financial security than a decade ago?
In the literature on the subject there has been various attempts at defining elderly resilience. For instance, the American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as "the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress," or "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.
Additionally, while admitting that there's not much research on the subject, the Centre for Policy on Ageing says resilience in older age is the ability to stand up to adversity and to bounce back or return to a state of equilibrium following adverse episodes.
We would suggest to Dominicans that before we begin complimenting certain people for being able to withstand health, financial and natural disasters, we should first recognise the appalling living conditions of older people. According to Help Age International, 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. What is more alarming is that the situation is getting worse as numbers of our senior citizens increase and Dominica grapples with a comatose economy following the death of the banana industry, the stagnation of tourism and the demise of manufacturing.
Although statistics on the number of old persons who are below the poverty line in Dominica are not available, in developing countries generally, older persons are among the poorest and the most vulnerable in society because governments have not made adequate provision to take care of their old persons. Help Age estimates that worldwide more than 100 million older persons now live on less than US$1 a day.
The world's population is ageing because more people are living longer lives. This is due to improvements in sanitation and health as well as the decrease in fertility rates. Worldwide there are 600 million persons who are 60 years and over and that figure is expected to double by 2025 and reach one billion by 2050. In Dominica, the number of people who are over sixty, has been estimated at 13.5 percent of the population. We anticipate that the census data that was expected to be released a decade ago, will shed some light on the actual status of Dominica's older persons.
Nevertheless, these numbers that we quoted earlier have caused people here and abroad to claim that the ageing population is a "time bomb" or an "age-quake" with potentially tsunami–like impact on the economy. For example, many fear that social security systems could collapse under the weight of carrying too many old persons. However, we are of the view that our country's alarmingly low production and productivity, as well as the hemorrhaging of our young work force to other countries through immigration, are more serious threats to the sustainability of the Dominica Social Security system than the ageing population. The question therefore for Dominica's leaders is how to develop policies aimed at improving the economy so that the country can keep its older persons healthy, integrate them in society and enable them to improve the quality of their lives thus improving their resilience.
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 overly optimistic proclamations, is terrible due to a combination of natural disasters such as Tropical Storm Erika and Hurricane Maria, pervasive corruption and decades of poor planning and ineffective 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. According to the American website: The States & Localities in an article entitled "Poverty among seniors getting harder to ignore": It's not the cost of living that's really the problem …It's the cost of trying to stay alive.
Generally, the Dominica Council on Ageing has had a fairly effective advocate for the welfare of older people in Dominica. Over the years the DCA has selected many interesting themes for Month of the Elderly ranging from : Seniors and Youth: Building Age friendly Communities; Take a Stand against Ageism; Come Walk in my Shoes; Respecting the Dignity of Elders; Embracing the Elderly Everywhere.
Great themes. But, of course, these messages are forgotten as soon as September (Month of the Elderly) is over. Maybe the DCA should concentrate on converting these great themes into programmes and projects that will improve the lives of the elderly in the future. Then we may be able to say that older people are indeed becoming resilient.