Opinion

Wanted: A country for elderly people

Wanted: A country for elderly people
  • While most of the focus has been on giving them social security nets and healthcare, there is a need for an audit of what would make their stay in the cities and towns bearable.

  • This would range from public transport to road infrastructure and even seemingly mundane things such as entertainment and shopping.

  • We can do much more, not only at the retail outlets, but in every aspect of urban life that other people enjoy and design them for an older persons to enjoy as well.

October 1 is marked globally as the International Day for Older Persons. On this day this week, I thought about the elderly people living in urban areas in Kenya and wondered if we as a country are sufficiently equipped to make them comfortable.

The government, through the National Council for Population and Development (NCPD) has conceded that the population of older people — those aged over 60 — has been rising. In its 2016 policy brief, the NCPD said that this population segment had increased more than threefold, from 587,983 to 1.9 million, between 1969 and 2009. By 2017, the numbers of elderly persons varied across counties, with Kiambu County registering the largest population of 97,389, followed by Meru with 84,905, while Murang'a and Machakos had 77,383 and 75,649 respectively. The lowest population of the elderly was found in Lamu County, at 5,431.

These figures are illustrative of a small but important population of people we need to take care of better. While most of the focus has been on giving them social security nets and healthcare, there is a need for an audit of what would make their stay in the cities and towns bearable. This would range from public transport to road infrastructure and even seemingly mundane things such as entertainment and shopping.

The design of our public transport vehicles is discriminatory to the elderly, what with the high steps and squeezed seating arrangements.

Access to most new buildings today is better, with ramps for those using wheelchairs, but not the motorised ones that elderly people use. The streets are also not paved in a way that ensures their safe movement. I look forward to the day urban roads will have flat paving on all pedestrian surfaces.

The setting up of benches around the city and in shopping malls is quite commendable. But in the residential areas, these are rare.

It is widely believed that one of the biggest issues older people face is loneliness. Therefore, a trip to the market, mall or shopping centre is a great relief, as it offers them an opportunity to socialise.

One could argue that with e-commerce, it will be easier for older people to shop. But research has shown that it is the younger generation that prefers this mode of shopping. Of course, there will be some outliers — those who cannot leave the house due to health reasons, for instance.

Recently, county governments have gone on a market-building spree, but are they considering elderly shoppers? At supermarkets, the elderly receive preferential treatment at the cash tills, thanks to the African culture that emphasises reverence of elders.

We can do much more, not only at the retail outlets, but in every aspect of urban life that other people enjoy and design them for an older persons to enjoy as well.

The writer is the head of legal at Naivas Supermarkets.