The Association of Ghana’s Elders (AGE) has taken on the challenge of advocacy for a group in society that is hardly considered as a ‘vulnerable’ group that needs support. From its work with older persons in society, the Association indicates that there is “benign neglect” of senior citizens in Ghana, because people presume that the family support system is enough to take care of them. However, times have changed, and family structures and safety nets have also changed, making it necessary to pay attention to ageing in Ghana.
Speaking at its first Stakeholders’ Forum at the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences on the 24th of August, Dr. Esi E. Ansah, the Founder of AGE said that the organization “seeks to build an ecosystem that engages multiple partners across industries and disciplines, to support the “Elders” in society (people who are aged 60 and above), to age with dignity.” She added that “while we focus on the sixty plus folks, we also have interest in the forty to sixty folks, and will court them towards dignified ageing.”
The event brought about 130 stakeholders together, including Senior Citizens, private companies that provide goods and services to meet the needs of Senior Citizens including Databank Financial Services, representatives from institutions and groups including the Center for Ageing Studies and the Regional Institute for Population Studies (University of Ghana), and some public officials from the Statistical Services and the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT). Participants included Dr. Rosina Acheampong (former headmistress of Wesley Girls High School), and Mr. Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, who are all members of the Advisory Board of AGE).
The Association launched its Senior Customer Loyalty Network, which is a network of product and service providers who have committed to providing discounted products and services, special rates and free advisory services to card-carrying AGE members. These partners cut across industries, and include discounted rates for health services at the Metro Health Clinic in Kumasi (20% off), The Brain Clinic in Accra (25% off), Axis Human Capital Ltd. (50% off), Roverman Production plays (38% off), and other partners including the Accra Mall Pharmacy, who are still in negotiation with the Association over special rates.
The Forum began with a minute of silence held in memory of Professor Nana Araba Apt, who served on its Advisory Board before her demise in March of this year. Professor Christopher Mate-Kole, the Director of the University of Ghana’s Centre for Ageing Studies, shared some trends and forecasts of ageing in Ghana, saying that by the year 2050, 14.1% of Ghana’s population will be more years old, and will increase dependency ratios. He also shared some of the work being done by the Centre.
One highlight was the keynote discussion on “Ageing: Mental Health, Lifestyle Choices and National Policy” with two discussants, moderated by Dr. Ansah. Professor Stephen Adei, a very active Senior Citizen who serves as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Ashesi University College; Chairs the Board of Christian International High School, which he founded, and sits on many other boards and is engaged in farming and many other activities shared his views, as did Dr. Yao Mfodwo. Dr. Mfodwo is a psychiatrist and social entrepreneur, whose work cuts across mental health, sleep therapy, active engagement in cocoa farming, and serves as the Akyeamehene (Chief of all Linguists) of the Akuapem Traditional Area. Their varied backgrounds kept the discussion very interesting.
The lively discussion raised issues concerning the role of technology in keeping Senior Citizens active and meaningfully engaged; the ‘right’ age for retirement; how to bridge the gap (differences) between the rural and urban elderly; the variety of options for staying active, and recommendations to policymakers concerning the population of the aged. Prof. Adei mentioned that “in terms of policy, the most important thing is the active engagement of retirees for national development, which could be the consideration of negotiating a half-time or quarter time with them.”
Exploring the significance of mental health and lifestyle choices of the elderly, with them being bored and easily depressed, Dr. Mfodwo noted that “there is the loss of power and self-esteem because of neglect and loneliness. If we take good care of them, they will be happier and healthier.” Prof. Adei referred to research showing that most people spend the bulk of all their medical expenses in the last two years of their lives.” In order to keep people healthy longer, he added that “… financially, we need to take care of them. The reason most of them are miserable and not engaging in recreation is because they don’t have the means. We must look at caring for the aged, and this should not be based on their income.”
After the discussion, the audience split up into eight groups according to the eight thematic areas of the Association (Political, Economic/Financial, Socio-Cultural, Health, Education, Environment and Legal), to discuss the challenges, opportunities and possible action steps in each of these areas. This was a highlight of the Forum, with very spirited group discussions led by eight facilitators (Ms. Brigitte Dzogbenuku, Mr. George Kesse, Ms. Abena Gyampoh, Mr. Richard Anim, Ms. Nana Akua Ampofo, Mr. Kwasi Prempeh-Eck, Ms. Afua Aidoo and Mr. Obed Opoku).
Each group shared the highlights of their conversations with the larger group, and freshly motivated, some participants expressed excitement and an interest in being part of an AGE team that would walk for 5km during the Accra International Marathon, to be held by one of AGE’s partners – Fit 4 Life, on the 29th of October, 2017. Others expressed an interest in learning how to use technology, with the help of AGE.
Present at the event, was poet Nana Asaase, who delighted the audience with his unique style that involved everyone singing along to popular local storytelling call-and-response songs. Nurses from the Palliative Care Unit at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, and the La Polyclinic were also on site to provide free medical screenings for Senior Citizens. The feedback received from participants was very positive, with a request for this Forum to be held more frequently, and for much longer, in order to encourage more networking.
Comments from participants were varied, with some saying “in all, it was very educative and eye-opening;” “there was limited time for group discussions;” “Grateful for the opportunity to learn from others. Hospitals and clinics should give special wards or stations for Aged treatment only. Palliative care should be introduced into Nursing Training. Transportation should be made available;” “an overly awesome event, and I must confess that I have learned quite a lot today,” and “AGE is an important forum. Hope it grows to have branches at the community level.”
Dr. Ansah thanked the partners who have joined the effort so far, the Volunteers and all who attended the Forum. She iterated that next steps for AGE include registering more members and getting them their AGE ID cards; widening the Senior Customer Loyalty Network and starting AGE Circles (neighborhood hubs for social engagement).