“AGE IS just a number controlled by your state of mind,” declared the Mighty Sparrow, and Curtis Thomas, 84, is an excellent illustration. Thomas’ story is also a reminder of the shifting demographic patterns that are changing our society.
When we think of the elderly, we sometimes think of them as a forlorn block of incapacitated individuals who need our assistance. The State’s many initiatives have revolved around measures to keep them from the brink of poverty, afford them better healthcare and prevent abuse.
Yet the elderly are not some kind of liability to society that must be tolerated. They are, increasingly, a tremendous resource we would do well to tap into. Thomas is a good example of the dynamism that happens only with age.
As Newsday reported in yesterday’s lead story, the Dow Village, Oropouche, resident on Sunday graduated with a degree in mass communication.
“I feel great,” he told reporters. “I look forward to what is possible.”
He had pursued tertiary education before, enrolling in a law degree. But that dream had to be shelved due to health problems. Yet, that did not stop him from giving studying another try. He had once also picked up a diploma in marketing and a certificate in human resource management.
Thomas’s story is no fluke. An increasing body of research suggests people who advance beyond 80 enjoy significant advantages. According to research findings of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, we get happier as we age. A new study published in June in the journal Science also suggests the risk of death decreases after age 80. And current trends suggest we are living longer.
The changing outlook has triggered some debate locally over matters such as the compulsory retirement age and pension contributions. It is now recognised that the retirement cap is more detrimental than advantageous, depriving us of invaluable individuals as they enter the prime of life.
For these reasons, the Division of Ageing of the Ministry of Social Development has to redouble its efforts. The division is responsible for implementing the National Policy on Ageing. That policy is wide-ranging but focuses on standards and regulations aimed at maximising participation of the elderly in society. For example, one programme aims at coupling adolescents with elderly people to encourage greater interaction between them.
These programmes will take on increasing importance as TT’s population matures. Currently, we are one of the few developing nations with more than ten per cent of our population over 60 (12 per cent or over 156,000 people). There are estimates the percentage could rise to 30 per cent by 2050.
Therefore, an 84-year-old getting a degree might soon no longer be a rare thing.