WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Ripe old age. By Gail Ilagan

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 October) — To mark the Elderly Week slated for October 1 to 7,  I gave an address to the BS Social Services students of the Mindanao Kokusai Daigaku last Friday. These students are majoring in care for the elderly. Here is the draft of my address:

Recently, I conducted a study on the risk of active duty soldiers to develop post-traumatic stress from their combat exposure. Among the questions I asked them was: If you had a choice, how and when would you wish for your death to come? Ninety-three percent told me that he would prefer to die of old age. So I asked, what is old age for you? Their answers ranged from 60 to 70. Others qualified old age to mean that time when they would have rejoined their families; they must have seen their grandchildren coming into this world; and they could die happy with the fact that their families would be ready to go on without them.

I suspect that if I ask you the same question, you would give me the same answer. A ripe old age is the universal aspiration of the human race.

It was also my privilege last year to take part in a multidisciplinary research on the life situation and experiences of the elderly in Davao City. This was an initial step intended by the city government to inform planning and legislation for the proposed Older Persons Code of Davao City. This is going to be a landmark law, representing what would be the very first initiative of a local government unit in the Philippines for a comprehensive legislation to address the welfare of our senior citizens.

Despite a heavy schedule last year, I accepted the invitation to be the psychologist on the team being constituted for policy research. I would like to think I did it from the goodness of my heart – that it was a response to the call that could not be denied, seeking as it did my expression of good citizenship. My community needed me and I could not do otherwise but to serve in this way. On closer examination, though, I have to admit that a big part of the reason why I chose to be involved was because someday I will be old, too- and yes, I would want my community to be ready to take care of me when that time comes.

My self-interested intentions aside, what we do see is that today we begin to anticipate the social conditions in the next generation. Social scientists, governments, and the academe are finding ways to prepare our people for what lies ahead.

In particular, what we turned up from that research for the city government told us that older people have needs that are not met. The results call attention to the provision of social service structures and the training of human resources to man these structures in order to make the system work, and work properly. It is important to do this now as the advances in medical revolution and health frontiers have made it possible for people today to expect to live longer than they did a hundred years ago. This would mean that the population of the elderly would increase and governments all over the world have to rethink policies to deliver social services for this segment of the population to ensure the continued productivity and quality of life of people who until 50 years ago would have been retired to the rocking chair and waiting to die.

Today, we see a lot of older people who proudly brandish their senior citizen’s card on occasions when they stand to benefit from the cultural advantages that our society has to offer – from discounts for restaurants, taxi fare and grocery to the privilege of not waiting in line to be seated for movies and public concerts. We see more of them at work, long past the time when they should have been retired. They continue to be productive at serving our community, running businesses and teaching our students.

My mother-in-law, the Hon. Luzviminda C. Ilagan, the party-list representative of the Gabriela Women’s Party, is one such productive senior citizen who loves to bring out her senior citizen card when she takes out my daughters – her granddaughters – to lunch. Her example of continued exemplary public service shows that our senior citizens have more to give and that, given the opportunity they would continue to give the best of themselves at work, for their family, for our country. Of course, it would also mean that they, as my mother-in-law does, need a little help like discounts for the cost of maintenance medicines for such ailments as diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, or for the men especially, problems with the prostate.

It is the same all over the world. In many developed countries that are at the tail-end of the demographic transition, there are more elderly people than babies being born. In some of these countries, the elderly population is expected in the next ten years to increase by as much as 40 percent than what it is today. The emerging demographic composition necessitates that governments adjust their social arrangements, forcing them to rethink policies for social security and health programs, among others. Then, too, there is the very real need for geriatric care, which their dwindling labor force would be hard pressed to address. For many of these countries, they would have little choice but to import the human resource to care for their senior citizens.

Yours therefore is a timely choice of profession that would be most relevant in the years to come. And today, as you mark this important step that brings you closer to earning your credentials, may you be strengthened by the knowledge that the world needs you, that your services would be most in demand by the time you are ready to go to work. May you proudly banner the fact that you are training in the Mindanao Kokusai Daigaku, an institution that anticipates the hiring opportunities in the international labor market, and may you similarly take pride that you learned the basics to the practice of your profession here in Davao City – a city that values its senior citizens enough to legislate and ensure the quality of life and well-being of the elderly.

Let me end by reiterating that a ripe old age is what we all aspire for in this life. May you hold on to your commitment to make this aspiration a reality for the rest of the human race. I bid you good luck and Godspeed in your journey to be part of the global transformation of social services for the elderly. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).