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Challenges ahead as seniors become a larger part of Island’s population

The Island's seniors may need to consider working past age 65 or starting retirement savings earlier to deal with costs associated with an expanding elderly population.

Former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Carl Musson, said between the year 2000 and 2030 the population of working citizens was expected to decline by 6.7 percent from nearly 40,000 to 37,300.

Like many other countries around the world the percentage of seniors in Bermuda's population is set to increase, doubling from 11 percent to 22 percent by 2030.

This demographic shift will mean that Government's revenue will decline as the work force gets smaller, Mr Musson said. This will challenge Government's ability to provide additional services for seniors.

Speaking at the National Conference on Aging being held this week, he made several recommendations to better support and sustain the Island's aging population.

He said he understood there was no “legal retirement age” and said: “I think what draws this retirement at 65 is when pensions kick in, but as far as I know there is no legislation that forces people to retire at 65.”

Mr Musson said it might also make sense to appoint a financial advisor to give money advice to seniors or revise mortgages for those who are “property rich and cash poor”.

Also present at the conference was Daniel Cotlear, a lead economist for the Human Development Network, Nicola O'Leary, Senior Officer for the Sustainable Development Unit, Virloy Lewin, a health promotion officer for the Department of Health and Robyn Montarsolo, a clinical psychologist at Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute.

Health Minister Zane DeSilva kicked off the event by encouraging the Island's seniors to take part in “active aging”.

This is the ability to keep up with social, economic, cultural, spiritual, and civic activities in addition to staying physically active or participating in the work force, he said.

“There are many reasons why active ageing is important to a community. There are also many things that a community can do to encourage active ageing as well. For example, we can develop elder friendly communities and encourage intergenerational interaction.

“In order for society to benefit, we must start the process now and not only for existing seniors but for the young man and woman in their 30s who will become seniors one day.

“These are revolutionary times that need revolutionary thinking. We need to develop policy but not in isolation. We also need to develop plans for the implementation of that policy.”

Ms Lewin said people could ensure they were ageing healthily by cutting out negative behaviours like smoking, alcohol and sedentary lifestyles.

According to Ms Montarsolo mental health problems such as dementia and depression affecting the elderly population are “not a normal part of ageing”.

She said people showing the first signs of these conditions should receive early intervention, while the problems are manageable. And stated that one-third of seniors were not receiving proper health care assessment or formal diagnosis for these illness, in part due to fear or stigmas attached to mental illness.

Dr Cotlear presented findings from a study on Latin America and explained that people's income peaked at the age of 40 to 43; while in OECD countries the peak was around 50 years old.

After that age, wages and productivity tended to wane, he said, adding that consumption for seniors far outweighed their income levels in Latin America.

He said countries like China had laws making adults legally responsible for the elderly people in their families, while some Latin American countries like Brazil and Chile had developed social security systems that covered nearly 80 percent of the population.

On Monday, Premier Paula Cox said people needed to be willing to have frank conversations about issues such as pensions if Bermuda was to tackle its growing ageing population.

Ms Cox said: “Serious discussion will occur with regards to pensions and the framework.”

She added that people had to be willing to come to the table and talk through the critical issues if any changes were going to be made. Ms Cox said everyone may not be happy with the outcome of the talks, but Bermuda had to sort out important issues as the number of elderly will increase while the number of working will decrease.

She added that young people looking to enter a new line of business should consider meeting the care needs of seniors through home care and continued care as it was one area where there was a gap in the market.

On Friday Mr DeSilva said: “Over the past four years there has been a significant effort to identify the issues that will impact on seniors and will have to be managed in the long term. We have determined that the best way forward is to have a national strategy.”

He said the conference would provide decision makers, service providers, caregivers and seniors with a range of information and would help identify services gaps to better meet the needs of seniors.

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Published March 24, 2011 at 9:59 am (Updated March 24, 2011 at 9:59 am)

Challenges ahead as seniors become a larger part of Island’s population

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