Just like the trend worldwide, we also have an aging population in the Philippines. Because of modern Medicine that provides various types of medications, interventions and measures that can prolong life, people now live longer.
In 1969 or 50 years ago, the average life expectancy in the Philippines was 60.6 years. Now, it’s 67 years for males and 72.6 for females. The average for both genders is 69.3 years. Although that’s almost 9 years longer than our elders used to live 50 years ago, that pales compared to other countries like Singapore and Japan wherein the life expectancy is now more than 80 years.
There’s no question that the financial status of the country is also a major factor determining the average lifespan of its citizens, but even other countries like Thailand and Vietnam—classified also as middle income like the Philippines—now have a longer life expectancy than us.
Does it mean the elderly in these countries have better health care and easier access to it? Well, possibly yes. There are many other factors though. The life expectancy statistic involves the average lifespan of all citizens born, and if a country has a high infant or child mortality rate, that will definitely pull down the average life expectancy of that country. I think that’s true for our country.
I have this hypothesis that if one reaches senior age (60 years) with no major health issues—or adequately controlled if one has hypertension, diabetes, arthritis and similar chronic illnesses–one can likely live up to age 80 years and older, provided one has access to adequate preventive and curative health care.
That’s the big catch though. Having access to adequate health care—like having regular check-ups, getting necessary vaccines like flu and pneumonia shots, having good nutrient and supplements—entails some cost. This is where the problem lies.
It is ironical that the elderly, majority of whom no longer have regular income, have to struggle with more medical bills and other needs to sustain their health and keep them alive.
Paraphrasing the words of Sen. Sonny Angara (Caring for the Elderly, page 18), our elderly worked so hard and sacrificed so much to take care of us when they were younger. Now that they’re old and weak, it’s our turn to take care of them and reciprocate the love that they’ve given us all these years.
The late Sen. Ed Angara, who originally authored our laws giving benefits and privileges to senior citizens, had really passed on the torch to Sen. Sonny, who has apparently made elderly care as of his priorities.
It’s also heartening to note that our current Binibining Pilipinas Universe Gazini Christiana Jordi Ganados, who graces our cover this issue, has chosen loving care for our elderly as an advocacy she will promote using her beauty pageant’s platform. (A Heart for the Elderly, page 12)
It never crossed my mind before, but recently, I had the uncanny realization I’m already an elderly myself. The Philippine Heart Association has bestowed on me the Life Achievement in Cardiology award. Although I’m 65 and turning 66 in a few months, I thought it might have been a little premature as I still have the passion and enthusiasm I had when I was just a newly minted heart specialist.
I praise God I can still spell most words properly and I still know in both conscious and subconscious levels appropriate medicines to prescribe my patients. I occasionally get emergency calls from our training residents and fellows at Manila Doctors Hospital in the wee hours of the morning when my sleep is at its deepest phase, and even in a subconscious state, I can still make a fairly reasonable assessment of what the patient’s emergency problem is and what treatment to give.
My physical fitness is one big area for improvement, but it’s still par for the course, at least, for my age. My wife Becky and I can still briskly walk more than 10 kilometers a day (more than 20,000 steps) during travels. It’s actually Becky who’s a fitness buff, and somehow it rubs off on me.
I guess it’s partly a mindset thing, too. Although we urge that society treats its senior citizens with respect and tender loving care, the elderly—myself included—should banish any thought of extreme vulnerability in their minds, declaring almost at every occasion that they only have limited time left in this world. Nobody, except God, can tell how many more years we have left, so we just have to keep ourselves busy at whatever makes us happy, fulfilled and still meaningful.
So cheers to our elderly (again, myself included)!
RAFAEL R. CASTILLO, MD