February 23, 2012

UKRAINE: 2012 has been declared the Year of the Elderly on the Old Continent

KYIV, Ukraine / The Day / Society / February 23, 2012

Home for the eldest people in the world

By Oksana MYKOLIUK, The Day

Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day
In developed countries for several decades preserving human potential, as well as improving the quality of duration of life have been the priorities of state development. In Ukraine there is constant inertness in social policy: the least protected groups of people continue to live so, while able-bodied citizens are less willing to work for the good of the motherland. However, life doesn’t remain still – according to experts, by 2050 every fifth person on Earth will be 60 and older, the number of children and able-bodied citizens will be only half of what we have now, and there will be 1.5 times more women than men. 

These are the predictions made by the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA). “In order to be able to face the challenges, countries need to be already changing their education, labor, social security, and health systems. Great deal of attention should also be paid to the institution of family because soon there will be more 60 year old people than there will be children under 5 years of age,” stressed Nuzhat Ehsan, Director of the UNFPA in Ukraine. It has been predicted that in a few decades the social problems of Europe will be a low birth rate and shortage of labor force.

The situation in Ukraine is even more difficult. Currently every fifth person is 60 and more years of age. The experts say that it is very many and that if such tendency remains by 2050 every third Ukrainian will be in the category of those who are 60 and above.

“Most of the elderly people in Ukraine are women (by definition an elderly person is that who is 60 or older). They constitute 65 percent of the general population, mainly because men simply either do not live to retirement age or do not live long after the well-deserved retirement. There is another serious issue in Ukraine – heavy mortality among men of working age. It can be largely reduced if attention is paid to labor security, healthy lifestyle, and healthy eating. Western Ukraine is ‘younger,’ while the eastern Ukraine is ‘older.’ The largest number of people aged 65 and more live in Chernihiv oblast,” said Ehsan.

Another reason for sad predictions for the Ukrainian demographics is the still low birth rate: 70 percent of Ukrainian families have only one child. Labor migration of young people is also characteristic for Ukraine. All of the abovementioned factors allow experts to suggest that by 2050 the number of working age population in Ukraine will be reduced by half, as well as the number of children [currently there are 14 million people in the country who pay insurance premiums and 13.8 million of pensioners. – Author].

According to Valerii Sushkevych, head of Committee for Pensioners, Veterans, and Invalids of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, president of the National Paralympic Committee there is another group of Ukrainians who need special care: these are people who have reached the venerable age and are alone. Every sixth person of those aged 60 and more lives on his own.
“It all is now remains beyond the state priorities, the authorities can not cope with the situation. Last year the number of elderly people grew by 2 percent and at the same time the number of institutions that serve such people reduced by 2.2 percent. After each statement made by Mykola Azarov the Committee receives piles of letters from pensioners, invalids, and veterans,” Sushkevych shared his experience. “Our Committee is now considering the draft law on social services. It is a law of European standards. I hope that it will be passed – then the social policy will start working very powerfully.”

Poverty, solitude, and also poor health – those are the factors that make Ukrainian pensioners suffer the most. According to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), health of people after 50 years rapidly grows worse. Moreover, if people in Europe with age have better health (and are happier), in Ukraine the situation is completely opposite. According to Volodymyr Paniotto, director of KIIS, 25 percent of elderly Ukrainians acknowledge that they are poor and half of them complain about poor health, besides older people suffer from depressions more frequently.

“Material security is not the most important for feeling happy but there is a linear dependence between those. For example, in developed countries if a person goes from the category ‘very poor’ to the category ‘poor,’ he feels happy. In Ukraine there is no such thing; the more money there is the happier is the person. Among the stresses elderly people experience the greatest percentage have illnesses (22 percent), family illness (18 percent), impotence in life circumstances (16 percent), and death of relatives (13 percent),” said Paniotto.

Depression also belongs to the category of health. In Ukraine elderly people experience it four times more often than young people and elderly people in Europe.

“Things are totally different in the developed countries: depression moods are more common in young people aged from 18 to 24. With age signs of depression are reduced in those people: the majority of European pensioners are enjoying life. In Ukraine depressions are more common for women – it happens twice as often as it does for men (of course, because there are more elderly women than men),” said Stanislav Kostiuchenko, psychiatrist, head of the research programs of the Ukraine’s Association of Psychiatrists. “Solitude and poverty are among the risk factors. While for men those factors are loss of social role, inability to earn money, for women it is disability due to illness. In Europe another risk factor is alcohol, but in Ukraine people who drink alcohol simply do not live long. Therefore, I want to stress that 40 percent of our respondents said that they do not have enough money even for food. Thus, we can conclude that it is difficult for the elderly people to live in Ukraine either with or without depression. The most important fact is that Ukrainian doctors often fail to recognize depression as such and do not know how to treat it. Thus, people are left alone with their problem.”

The researchers say that they failed to match the data received in Ukraine with the European data just because they simply could not be matched. For example, in Italy or Spain only a few percent of elderly people are in the category of ‘very poor,’ while in Ukraine there are 40 percent of such people. The average income of a pensioner in Europe is about 2,000 euros, while in Ukraine it is less than 80 euros (60 percent of pensioners get pension of 882 hryvnias). What is to be matched here? In Europe there is also a large sample for research of people of 70 years old and above. In Ukraine there are not so many people who live to this age so there is no way a full-fledged research could be made.

“Old age in Ukraine is tragic. There are two reasons for this. First is the isolation of generations and destruction of traditions; second is destruction of social policy in the country (for example, there is no system of hostels and hospices for the elderly and sick),” thinks human rights activist Semen Hluzman. “I think that the difficult economic situation has nothing to do with poverty of people. On the contrary, poor management and prevalence of private interests over those of state lead to a crisis.”

According to Ehsan, priorities of a modern state social policy in any country should be, first, integration of elderly people into society, second, access to re-training and high-quality medical service, and, third, state should create a positive image of an elderly person. Informational campaign and implementation of practical activities within the framework of the declared European Year of Elderly People Activity have already begun in the European Union. In Denmark, for example, the main way for involving elderly people in active life style is through volunteering, although, according to the Eurostat, nearly 50 percent of pensioners are volunteering there (generally, in Europe the figure is 27 percent). Unfortunately, this is again the case when comparing the situation with that in Ukraine is impossible: pensioners in our country can not think about charity because they are forced to survive themselves.

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