The Ministry of Elder Affairs and People Empowerment will be taking a more holistic approach to caring and providing safe spaces for the elderly, including providing more activities for them, Minister Kirk Humphrey has said.
He disclosed on Friday that his Ministry is in the process of working with its telecommunications partners to finalise a programme called Elderly Net, that will allow senior citizens to interact with each other online
Humphrey also promised that in the coming months, he would be announcing other programmes, designed with partners, specifically for the aging population, persons 60 years and older.
He made the disclosures following a tour of the Soroptimist Village for Seniors in Eden Lodge, St Michael, which formed part of a process of identifying gaps and possible solutions while building stronger ties with stakeholders. It was the third such tour, the others being at the Barbados Council for the Disabled and the Barbados Alliance to End Homelessness.
“I think it is going to be essential that all of our programmes become bigger over time, so that we can reach more people and allow Barbados really to be a centre where getting older doesn’t mean an increase in morbidity,” he said.
“It is an increase in activity, increase in friendliness, the capacity to use the knowledge the older people have to be able to build out our programming, and to be able to work with persons who are in the field who have been doing it for so long to help us also build out our programming.”
With a population of close to 300,000 people, Barbados has one of the fastest aging countries in the Caribbean, with 2018 information estimating that there were some 65,000 people aged 55 and older.
Humphrey told reporters it was his intention, before leaving office, to have more facilities similar to that of the government-run Vauxhall Senior Citizens Village and the Soroptimist Village for Seniors built to allow more active aging.
The Hildegarde Weekes Activity Centre at the Soroptimist Village for Seniors is a space for the elderly to be entertained and engage in various activities three days a week, including dancing, exercising, art and craft. They also go on tours.
“They form friendships from coming together and engaging in these activities. It is important for the elderly to be engaged with their peers. It helps them in terms of their aging and they remain active,” said Ramona Smart, President of Soroptimist International Barbados.
She said there were usually between 45 and 50 people for the daily activities, which was reduced to around 20 to 25 people during the pandemic.
Smart said while 22 of the 24 residential units at the Soroptimist Village for Seniors were currently in use, she had a “long list of persons waiting to get in to live”.
“So there is an urgent need to have additional housing for seniors,” she said. “I look forward to the opportunity to work with the National Assistance Board and the Ministry to see how we can come together and work towards improving the plight of the elderly in our communities. The activities at the activity centre can be rolled out in the wider community.”
Meantime, Humphrey reiterated his concern about elderly abuse and a break from tradition in how the elderly used to be cared for by individuals, the church, and communities.
“I feel that cases of elderly abuse have to be prosecuted a lot more sternly than we do. I feel when these things happen we have to make it known to the public. We also have to engage in a stronger [public relations] programme so people understand what elderly abuse is,” he said.
Friday’s tour also included visits to some child care facilities and the National Assistance Board facility in Lancaster, St James. (MM)