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Geriatric Economics – Why Valuing Our Seniors Enhances Social Welfare

March 10, 2010 41 comments

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by Marquis Codjia

For the past 12 months, the Obama administration has grappled with healthcare reform, a thorny issue that became the poster child of infecund partisan musings in Washington.

Both sides of the argument agree nonetheless on one premise: healthcare reform, like all other entitlement revamps, is pivotal to lessen the specter of a potential US bankruptcy in case benefits paid within the program outgrow cash receipts. .

At the moment, officials are slighting an important area that is indissolubly tied to the ongoing debate: the nation’s overall “geriatric policy”.

Geriatrics is the medical branch that focuses on health care of the elderly while gerontology reviews the social, psychological and biological aspects of ageing.

Geriatric policy, in this context, refers to the corpus of government programs used to enhance elders’ welfare and reduce medical care.

Improving our geriatric policy can be economically profitable and fiscally palatable to taxpayers.

At this point, two myths on human seniority need be debunked in the collective psyche.

First, there’s no age limit set by medical doctors beyond which individuals must retire. Humans are diverse and health specialists concur that specific factors may affect a worker’s ability to perform their duties, but as long as they possess cognitive and physical function capacities, they may work at any age. Government-enforced retirement age has to do more with politics than biology.

The second point offers some empirical truth about the first.

Many elected officials, corporate executives, prominent social activists and renowned sports leaders usually have some gray hair.

For instance, the US Senate has the highest concentration of democratically elected political seniority in the developed world. The median age of a US Senator is 63 years, roughly the retirement mark for most workers.

Robert Byrd, 92 years old from West Virginia, is the most senior member of that chamber, followed by New Jersey’s 86 year-old Frank Lautenberg.

If the country consents to being governed by aged people, then it becomes facile to argue that seniors possess an invaluable, albeit currently untapped, wealth of experience.

In the west, the gradual surge in life expectancy correlated positively with medical costs over the years because living longer understandably infers higher health care.

Regrettably, our post-modern society is filled with ageism and thus tolerates seniors being ostracized because of their alleged lack of economic productivity or social utility.

This social stance is flawed because we’re squandering a substantial portion of GDP previously invested in formal education, corporate training, medical insurance and other entitlement benefits necessary for a productive workforce.,

In the case of the US, that investment runs in billions of dollars.

Prominent gerontologists JW Rowe and RL Kahn found that an important pillar of successful ageing is an active engagement in life, which in turn ups cognitive capability and diminishes the probability of disease or disability.

Four distinct approaches can help maximize elderly welfare, reduce costs and increase social well-being. For efficiency sake, applicable departments at the state and federal levels (health, social affairs, elder services, etc.) can be horizontally integrated to create an ad-hoc agency, similar to what was achieved in the US intelligence community.

The Government must devise in tandem with the private sector an online database to track skill availability in seniors; if executed well, that website can even generate revenue once popularity drives high traffic.

The 4 programs are as follows:

1) Retired workers helping former companies

Newly retired workers register to the site, indicating their skillset, industry and activity preference. Companies will then call upon former employees (or workers with similar know-how) for insight on specific projects such as IT integration, organizational structuring, staff training, etc. This model benefits the firm twice because former staff are substantially cheaper than external consultants and arguably know more about the company or the industry.

2) Seniors in nursing homes nurturing kids

Elders can be employed in various pre- and after-school programs, from kindergarten to high school. They can even teach based on their “lifetime achievement” experience. Various “exchange programs” can be organized between, say, nursing homes and academic institutions to foster inter-generational bonding.

3) Seniors nurturing  youth and coaching organizations

Elders’ experiences may help assuage difficult youths and satisfy other coaching needs. In this field, aged inmates who have demonstrated good behavior and strong potential for social re-integration may, under certain circumstances, be allowed to advise and mentor others.

4) Seniors in national sporting events

Keeping with the same logic of active engagement, authorities should encourage national sporting events for seniors. Even though the idea of a “Senior Olympic Games” may be far-fetched at present, an interstate competition is a more likely and potentially profitable option in light of the numerous baby-boomers who are nearing retirement. 

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