Our country faces a reality and an unavoidable challenge, and that is that the number of older people is growing significantly on a permanent basis. It is estimated that in the year 2050 at least 30% of the population in Chile will be 65 years of age or older, with a third of this group exceeding the age of 80. Undoubtedly, this population aging will imply multiple challenges since significant changes will be observed in different aspects, such as socioeconomic, cultural, health, quality of life, ways of inhabiting our environment, among others. Thus, we are presented with challenges and tasks that we must face within our society, which is why it is essential to make joint efforts between the public and private sectors, academia and different foundations of society.
We know that this is a challenge and a particularly complex path, since despite the fact that this demographic reality is known, older people are frequently made invisible, minimizing and even ignoring their problems. Due to the above, it is urgent to reverse this perspective and generate new knowledge that can permeate and influence the decision-making of all the actors in society. This is a fundamental contribution that we can make from the universities through the generation of relevant knowledge about the elderly in the country.
At UC we have recently formed a work group that brings together all the centers and initiatives that are dedicated to contributing to a better future for the elderly. In this way there is an interaction between the Center for Aging and Old Age, Programs for the elderly, Continuing Education, the Conecta Mayor Foundation, research initiatives, Medicine and the Department of Geriatrics, the initiatives of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Camina 60 +, of Public Policies, among others. With the work and studies of these teams, and in a network, we can help to make visible the reality of the 60+ segment, reveal topics of social impact related to old age and the aging of our inhabitants and, significantly, sensitize public opinion .
Along these same lines, the UC-Confuturo Observatory on Aging, which has already been contributing for three years, is a project born from the alliance between the UC and the Confuturo Insurance Company, which has positioned itself as a space for research, generation , dissemination of knowledge and current state of old age in the country. As an example, this observatory recently published a study warning that Chileans, despite being increasingly long-lived, do not necessarily feel that they experience a better quality of life. Some factors that explain these results are the low education rate, the dependency rates, the inconsiderate treatment they receive from different sectors of society, which can directly affect their perception and life satisfaction.
Other reports from the Observatory on Aging have revealed, for example, that the pandemic has set back labor force participation in this segment by more than ten years, with women in the 60+ group being significantly affected the most. It has also been warned of the worrying lack of geriatricians in various regions of the country, the lack of support networks has been revealed, and that up to four out of ten people living on the streets are over 50 years of age. Thus, today there are many other findings in this line that must be urgently taken into account. To review the more than twenty reports published on all these topics to date, you can review directly at https://observatorioenjececimiento.uc.cl. These studies teach us that we must have a more complete and integrated understanding of aging, addressing the great heterogeneity of the age groups that comprise it. In this way, we will be able to plan priority actions that generate better social and material conditions for the elderly.
It is evident that we still have large gaps to advance in being able to adapt different social regulations, public services, health, access to spaces of culture, education, development of spirituality, among many others. In this task, the work and studies of this Observatory, like those of other academic initiatives that generate new knowledge about the reality, needs and gaps of the elderly in Chile, are of the greatest relevance. The result and proposals of these contributions must be considered by the authorities, legislators, public and private companies, the media and decision makers. This will undoubtedly have a significant influence on the generation of better public policies that will benefit our elderly people. For this we are working collaboratively at the university.
By Ignacio Sanchez D.Rector, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.
Column by Ignacio Sánchez: An observatory for aging – La Tercera