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Strategy for inclusion brings respect and better health to elders in Sri Lanka

Burnet Institute

30 September, 2011

A coconut scraping competition during a sports day organised by one of Sri Lanka's Elders' Clubs. Photo by Wendy Holmes

The grey-haired women in their saris race down the field, grab the coconuts set out for them and grate them energetically, eager to finish first.

Old men watch from their seats on the sidelines and chuckle, while the young people cheer on their grandmothers.

This is one of the competitive events at a sports day for tea estate Elders’ Clubs organised by the elders themselves.

The organisers have invited young people, estate managers and local politicians.

Elders’ Clubs

Establishing Elders’ Clubs was one of several strategies in a project that started in 2004, to improve the health and well-being of the elders and foster traditional values of respect, in the tea estates of Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka.

The project is a collaboration between a local community development organisation, PALM Foundation, and the Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health.

And the Elders’ Club strategy has had broader benefits than expected.

Sri Lanka is a good example of an Asian country that is responding to rapid population ageing while still poor.

As a result of early decreases in mortality and fertility rates, the proportion of the population over 60 years of age is doubling in less than 25 years – a transition that took 100 years in Western countries.

This is happening at the same time as social changes stemming from globalisation, with many migrating to cities and overseas, and women working outside the home.

Not just a burden

Increasing numbers of older people bring benefits for societies as well as challenges. Older people care for small children enabling parents to work; they shop, cook and clean; they grow vegetables and look after domestic animals.

Their economic contribution is often considerable – but doesn’t appear in national accounts. They provide emotional security; a sense of continuity with the traditions of the past; a listening ear and sense of belonging for young people; and provide accumulated wisdom and experience for young mothers.

But these contributions are often limited by preventable illness and disability, putting a burden of care on family members, who are usually women.

This loss of independence may occur gradually, such as vision loss from cataracts or increasing stiffness from arthritis, or suddenly, with a catastrophic event such as a stroke.

CLICK HERE for the full article at The Conversation.

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