I recently read that most children born today in Japan will live until they are over 100 years old. As a result, their children will in their late seventies be looking after parents who are 100 years plus. Japan is the only large country to have formally adopted the idea of century-long living as a national project.
In recent decades we have seen the greatest success in human history when it comes to raising life expectancy. Some are doing better than others, but across the world we are living much longer, and many are living as happy and fulfilled individuals in old age.
In the 1970s in the GCC with the marked increased income from the sale of oil, the region benefited greatly, with a major improvement in living standards and this included better healthcare. Even with the introduction of American fast foods, the overall health and well-being of the population improved, as did longevity.
Today, we have an ever-growing population of people over 60. There is no well thought through plan to deal with the new demands this increasing part of the population are placing on their families, as well as society at large.
I’ve been reading about hospital beds in Bahrain being unavailable for people in real need, due to the fact that some families are refusing to have elderly relatives discharged who no longer need to be in hospital. In many cases, having an elderly relative in hospital is an easy option when it comes to both care and the costs associated with looking after an elderly family member.
We in Bahrain need to wake up to our new reality. I’m not saying that families must take on the full burden of looking after ageing members of their families, but there must be new support mechanisms in place that reflect our new reality. We cannot allow hospital beds to be occupied by individuals who should not be there. We are depriving others in need of the emergency treatment they surely must expect in a modern society such as Bahrain.
We need to wake up to the fact that many families are struggling to deal with the impact of having more elderly relatives requiring their support. In the past, and in some countries today, the family and not the state takes on the principal role of carer for the elderly. In the globalised world of today, families can be spread all over the planet, making it next to impossible to provide the carer role of the elderly that was in place in the past when we grew up, worked and died within a 50-mile radius of where we were born.
There needs to be a new approach regarding the way societies deal with the growing elderly population. We have in many countries been very successful at the other end of the age spectrum when it comes to children of pre-school age. Now is the time to take seriously the wants and needs of the elderly and their families by providing the support mechanism that a modern society needs. Perhaps we can learn from Japan.