Monday, March 7, 2011

Older Persons and Human Rights: Awakening Our Quiet Elders

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?’ Kofi Annan quoted these Beatles’ lyrics in 2002 while addressing the Second World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid. Then the UN Secretary-General, Annan accurately observed that this single poignant sentence sums up the situation of older persons around the world.

Are we willing to acknowledge the considerable, and often untapped, contributions of older persons? And are we willing to see that even in the more developed regions of the world many older persons live in poverty, without access to adequate health care, housing, nutrition or basic services such as clean water or electricity?

I recently attended a workshop on the socioeconomic rights of older persons in South Africa and spoke with a participant during the tea break. This woman remarked that in her culture, older persons believed that they must accept their situations – no matter how dire. Who are we to ask for more? is the common sentiment.

I think this attitude amongst older persons of being resigned to one’s circumstances, of being reluctant to claim that to which one is entitled, spreads far beyond South Africa. This is not to say that older persons are necessarily silent about the challenges in their lives. I believe, however, that older persons are less apt to to stand up for themselves outside of their own homes or to speak up to persons of perceived authority.

The woman from the workshop said that older persons in her culture needed to know what their rights are and how to access them. She insisted that the mindset of accepting one’s circumstances would change if older persons knew they were entitled to more and were not expected to sacrifice for younger generations.

How do we awaken older persons to the realization that they deserve the same human rights as younger persons do, and how do we enable older persons to claim those rights?

Jill Adkins


  1. I am convinced that a disabled person under 65 years should be able to purchase medical gap-insurance at a reasonable price. I just turned 65 years old and was able to purchase gap-insurance at a reasonable price from 3 months before my birthday until 3 months after my birthday without a physical exam. What a good feeling to know I'm covered!

    Before that I was enrolled in Medicare/Medicaid with a large spend- down. If I had become sick or had heart surgery the first day, my Medicaid would not have kicked in until the next day AFTER I met my spend down amount. Think how much that could have been! I am a person with a low income because of disability and have no way to pay for medical treatment. . I'm so, so glad I'm 65 years and have gap-insurance now.

    Older People in the US should not have to live under those terrible pressures. Ironically, the poor medical care in the US puts more stress on my heart and makes me even more disabled. Why should we older persons have to put up with these terrible situations? Where are our human rights to decent health care in old age?

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    I think this mind-set amongst mature individuals of being reconciled to a person's conditions, of being cautious to declare that to which one is eligible, propagates far beyond Southern region African-american.