Mexico Deals With Their Seniors

And it’s a struggle
BY: OPHILIA PAYNE

During the decade of the 1990s senior citizens represented just 6.35% of the population but now they are 10%, and according to projections by the National Population Council, their numbers will grow by 42.5% in the next 10 years, reaching 15%.  By 2030 there could be as many as 20 million. Since 1960 life expectancy in Mexico has risen from 57 to 75 years. (In those same years the number of children born to each woman went from 7 to about 2.22)

But at the same time needs of the seniors have multiplied. There is widespread agreement that the government hasn’t done a very good job of seeing to it that seniors are well cared for, and that public policy hasn’t kept up with the pace of population growth. Sound familiar?

The difficulties for the growing number of people of the so-called third age — la tercera edad, as they are known in Mexico — are numerous and the demand for specialized services has far outstripped the ability to meet them. 70% of older adults do not receive the medical services they need in either public or private institutions. Nor do they have much money to pay for them: on average, the typical senior in Mexico has a monthly income of around U.S. $120, and only 25% have a retirement or pension plan.

There is one trained professional specializing in geriatrics for every 22,000 seniors, but by international standards there should be a specialized doctor available for every 2,000 to 2,500.

Says a researcher at the National Institute of Geriatrics, “Technology has allowed us to have extended longevity but this has had grave consequences on the quality of life for older adults, which is often deplorable, and the government doesn’t seem interested.” Armando Luna Lopez pointed out that a government incapable of providing employment opportunities for youth is even less likely to invest in the well-being of seniors.

The problem is made worse by the changing status of women, who are the traditional care givers. The quality of women’s education has increased in the last several generations, and more women have entered the workforce. Without women in the home to care for the elderly, and with no tradition of retirement homes or even elder day care, these elderly Mexicans are left to fend for themselves all day. This is not a good plan for healthy, happy, or very long senior years.