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More Than Half of World’s Older People Lack Long Term Care

FILE - Vendor Carmen Diaz, 84, is pulled by a market porter as she makes her way home at the end of her work day in the Oriental Market in Managua, Nicaragua, April 30, 2015.

A new study by the International Labor Organization finds more than half of all people 65 years and older have no access to urgently needed long term care. The ILO study is being launched on the International Day of Older Persons.

The study of 46 countries covers 80 percent of the world population aged 65 and over. It finds an alarming lack of social protection for this aging population and a global shortfall of 13.6 million workers to care for its needs.

The report says 300 million elderly people are incapacitated in various ways. Many have lost their mobility and cannot walk, some may have mental illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s, while others may need daily assistance to tend to their basic health needs.

ILO Health Policy Coordinator and Author of the study, Xenia Scheil-Adlung, says the whole long term care issue is largely neglected due to both age and gender discrimination.

“This age discrimination and gender discrimination, but particularly age discrimination is publicly not considered as a serious concern," said Scheil-Adlung. "Other than other forms of discrimination, we find that it is largely accepted that, for example, older people get less services. They are expected to consume less public funds. If you compare rehabilitation services, which are needed both by younger and older persons, we find that older persons get much less.”

The report says in Africa, which lacks 1.5 million long term care workers, more than 90 percent of older persons do not receive care. It says the need for long term health care workers in absolute numbers is greatest in Asia and the Pacific. It says this region lacks 8.2 million workers, depriving 65 percent of the over 65 population of assistance.

Older people generally do better in Europe. But, the report notes even European countries spend on average only two percent or less of their gross domestic product on long term care for the elderly.

Due to the shortage of health care workers, the International Labor Organization says unpaid female family members end up caring for up to 80 percent of all older people in need of assistance.

The ILO study says global populations are rapidly aging and few countries in the world are prepared to deal with their increasing needs. The ILO is calling for universal coverage and protection for the elderly, financed by national social insurance plans or taxes.

It notes increasing the long term care workforce would provide quality care for older people and generate much needed jobs.