Saint Lucia
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Golden 80 Plus: Government Offers Health Care Package to Seniors

Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E
By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

THE government of St. Lucia has offered a Healthcare package to the senior citizens of St. Lucia. The package, referred to as the Golden80 Plus, came into existence from 1st July, 2023.

The programme, which targets persons 80 years and over, is being implemented by the Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly affairs.

Persons who are 80 years and over are now eligible to receive prescription drugs at the Community Wellness Centre pharmacies without having to pay for that service.

Those persons now have annual hearing test at the Entrepot Wellness Centre in Castries. In Vieux Fort, the test is available at the Vieux Fort Wellness Centre in the South.

Our seniors also have access to eye screening and surgery at the Cuban Eye Clinic at Victoria Hospital.

The government has published the telephone numbers for all of the Community Wellness Centres in the state, which will give the eighty plus citizens easy access to the services when required.

Now who are senior citizens? The term senior citizen refers to someone who is retired and above the age of 60 or 65 years.

In countries around the world, concessions and facilities are offered to senior citizens. In St. Lucia, the Ministry of Health and Wellness and Elderly Affairs provides the healthcare programme; the Ministry of Equity provides welfare services to our senior citizens; the Ministry of Consumer affairs also provides a level of service to active senior citizens who are still in business; and the Ministry of Finance, through the Income tax department, offers tax exemptions to our senior citizens.

The phenomenon of population ageing is becoming a major concern for policy makers all over the world. Our country is not immune to that demographic change.

From my observation in St. Lucia. Many of our senior citizens are left to battle with the rigours of life. A few of them could been found sleeping around our city and left exposed to the weather. I am also aware that in some of the cases the seniors prefer to go around begging instead of accepting an offer to go to a centre where they would be cared for in a very humane way.

This demographic change brought about by our aging senior citizens, has provided new challenges for our socioeconomic systems in St. Lucia.

But the government of St. Lucia is brazened in facing those challenges and are ready to bring about the needed comfort to our Super senior citizens.

The increase in longevity and the breakdown in the family structure and social fabric of our society, push seniors into loneliness and neglect.

But with a mantra of “Putting People First,” the machinery of government will correct the main inadequacies brought about by aging.

Care for the elderly is of particular importance for the Government of St. Lucia. Some structures are already in place to care for our senior citizens. For example, the NICE programme is a most welcome programme here in St. Lucia.

Now let us take an in-depth look at persons who are 80 years and over. The literature on health science refers to these people as “Super Agers”

Now what exactly is a Super Ager? A Super Ager is someone in their 80s or older who exhibits cognitive function that is comparable to that of average middle-aged individual. By cognitive function, I mean the way in which the mind works. Together with its organ, the brain.

Just to give an example. Quite recently, Massy Stores, as part of its 100th Anniversary, recognised centenarians living in St. Lucia, at a special function. Although all centenarians could not attend the function, three of the super seniors were present. One of the three was a Super Senior aged 107. The lady was so active that she couldn’t sit for too long. She was able to deliver a vote of thanks. If her age was not given early in the programme, when you listen to her, you would think she was 60 years of age. Or middle-aged as we say it.

Indeed, staying active is one of the best thing persons can do as they age. Physical activity results in increased oxygen intake, which helps your body perform at its best. Exercise also helps your heart, and muscle- strengthening exercises specifically reduce the risk for falls.

Regular exercise also helps one maintain a healthy weight. Now the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease triples (three times as much) in individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30. Even exercising twice, a week will help lower the chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

Now those who can afford could go to the gym. But you can remain at home, perhaps in the sitting room or veranda and do seven minutes of exercises two or three times a week, and that would help a great deal. Even better if you can do the exercise five days a week.

Indeed, mental activity can be just as important as physical activity. Now mental activity comes in many forms. Reading short articles in THE VOICE Newspaper or a short story in a book will help. Taking classes that put you out of your comfort zone could also help.

As an Adult Educator, I had the opportunity to participate or teach in the Adult Literacy programmes held by the Ministry of Education many years ago. Several senior citizens and a few Super Agers attended those classes, and regularly. And they participated fully in the programmes. It’s a pity that the Adult Literacy programmes were discontinued.

To conclude this article, I wish to indicate that seniors or Super Agers with Alzheimer’s disease, the brain cells stop functioning correctly and eventually die, leading to severe changes in thinking ability.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but medical researchers are currently testing and developing therapies to prevent or stop the disease.