Long-term care for elderly women, an urgent need | Sunday Observer

Long-term care for elderly women, an urgent need

Panelists from left: Ritsu Nacken, Dr Reiko  Hayashi, Prof Lakshman Dissanayake and Dr Shiromi Maduwage
Panelists from left: Ritsu Nacken, Dr Reiko Hayashi, Prof Lakshman Dissanayake and Dr Shiromi Maduwage

Currently, women constitute two thirds of the population above the age of 80 years in Sri Lanka. This phenomenon called ‘Feminization of Ageing’, occurs when women make up a larger share of the older population. Feminization of ageing leads to a number of socioeconomic issues, particularly relating to long-term care, as most women are caregivers even as they age and transition from providers to dependents due to the deterioration of their health.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sri Lanka convened a high-level panel discussion at the International Conference on Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine 2019, also known as the ‘SilverAge Conference’, on the topic ‘Feminization of Ageing and its Impact on Long-term Care’.

While men and women both face challenges during the ageing process, women in particular face discrimination related to healthcare among other services in the long term due to their dependency and the role as caregivers. This restricts the rights and choices of elderly women at a stage of vulnerability. Therefore, there is a greater need to focus on gender when developing and implementing effective interventions concerning long-term care for the elderly.

The panel comprised of an international expert and policy leaders, and was moderated by Ritsu Nacken, UNFPA Representative in Sri Lanka. Opening the discussion, Ms. Nacken said, “Long-term care for elderly women is a very relevant topic for Sri Lanka particularly because of women’s economic vulnerability in society. Many Sri Lankan women do not engage in formal employment, which leaves them without pension or saving in old age. We need to address this issue taking a life-cycle approach to ensure the rights and dignity of elderly women.”

Director Department of International Research and Cooperation, National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Japan, Dr. Reiko Hayashi, highlighted how Japan has addressed the issue of long-term care for the ageing female population. She said, “In Japan, most of the long-term care professionals and family caregivers are women. Since 2000, Japan has had a long-term care insurance to shift the long-term care burden from family to the social system. This did not include cash payments for family caregivers as this would pressure women to stay at home as caregivers, and limit their choices and options in life.”

Former Vice-Chancellor, Senior Professor of Demography (Chair), University of Colombo, Prof. Lakshman Dissanayake shared his knowledge on current population trends that should shape policies to address feminization of ageing. He said, “While population data shows that women tend to live longer than men in Sri Lanka, it is evident that women spend more years in bad health in comparison with men. This means that women spend most of their old age in a state of vulnerability.”

Panelist and organizer of the Silver Age Conference, Consultant Community Physician, Dr. Shiromi Maduwage said, “We are hosting this conference in Sri Lanka to learn from other countries and to share knowledge. When considering the health of older persons, we must understand the gender perspective as well.”

As the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA plays a pivotal role in ensuring that population trends and dynamics are highlighted at a policy level to inform national and sub-national decision-making in ensuring a better Sri Lanka for all.