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Tiptoeing around sex and the elderly

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Director of monitoring, evaluation and research at the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) Dr Tazhmoye Crawford has just done policy formulators and senior citizens of Jamaica what we would regard as a huge favour.

Dr Crawford has recently conducted a study titled “Life after Three Scores and Ten in Jamaica: A Phenomenological Analysis', which the International Journal of Healthcare Sciences found compelling enough to publish in its April-September 2018 issue.

The State-run NFPB now has the task of getting key stakeholders to read the study, which looks at health among the elderly and how chronic illness, sexuality, and way of life “are inextricably linked in the realisation of ideal personal and social progress”. This study will undoubtedly be useful in addressing existing gaps in Jamaica's policy and programme planning for this vulnerable group.

Dr Crawford tells us some things that we already know; that people are living longer and that health and access to care play a crucial role in the welfare and dignity of the elderly. But she made a valiant attempt to hone in on an area that we tend, as a society, to tiptoe around — the matter of elderly sexual and reproductive health.

Too many of us believe that sex and the elderly ought not to be mentioned in the same sentence. The study, of course, does not delve into the salacious, but approaches the matter from the standpoint of chronic illness impact, arguing that “when it comes to health, every older person is different”.

She maintains that even so, “All are faced with two key 'inconvenient ageing events: physiologic decline and disease state'.” In so doing she has heightened the scope for strong policy-research-programme interface on matters regarding the elderly community.

Dr Crawford draws on research by the World Health Organization to remind us that the number of people aged 60 years or older in the global population will rise from 900 million to two billion by 2050.

Where Jamaica is concerned, life expectancy (based on 2011 data) represents 78.04 for women and 70.4 for men, coming from 74.7 and 69.5 respectively in 2005. This our planners must take seriously.

Dr Crawford's study was conducted between January 2016 and December 2017, using the elderly within the 78-104 age cohort along the themes: physiological; physical; educational; social; psychological; economical and the individual.

It recommended, among other things, that while current literature addressed the relationships between ageing and chronic illness, its linkage with sexual and reproductive health is a gap that needs to be remedied, given its pertinence to sustainable development.

“…It is prudent, therefore, that members of the elderly community have a seat at the policy table in order to foster strengthening of the research-policy programme interface regarding retirement, counselling, and increase in knowledge regarding ageing and its natural physiology,” Dr Crawford offers.

Critically, she suggests that counselling policies for pre-retirees should be developed or reinforced, and that there should be investment in pre-elderly counselling and education regarding ageing and the environment.

She stressed the importance of “care campaigns” to help the younger generation appreciate the elderly, and in that way assist young people to know how to prepare themselves for ageing.