Expert comment - Social inclusion among older people in the Middle East6 April 2023 London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine https://lshtm.ac.uk/themes/custom/lshtm/images/lshtm-logo-black.png
According to the United Nations, the Middle East is experiencing the fastest pace of ageing globally, with the number of people aged 60 and over expected to triple by 2050.
Women are more affected by ageing, as they tend to live longer, alone for extended periods and with a higher disease burden. Older women in the Middle East are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion, with women over 60 being twice as likely to live alone and have limited social and economic engagement opportunities than men.
Elder abuse is a significant but hidden problem in the region. Recent studies indicate that 30-50% of older people experience some form of abuse or neglect. The most common forms are emotional and financial abuse, usually within the family. Yet, up to 80% of cases may go unreported due to a lack of recognition of what constitutes abuse and the stigma and shame of acknowledging it had happened.
Speaking at the 13th Session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing at the United Nations General Assembly, Shereen Hussein, Professor of Health and Social Care Policy at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Founding Director of the Middle East and North Africa Research on Ageing Healthy (MENARAH) Network, said:
“Despite a narrative of respecting and treasuring older people, economic and social realities, coupled with a lack of awareness of older people’s rights, have led to a high prevalence of ageism, mistreatment, and abuse. While the ideology of respect is strongly present, the practical applications position the older person, especially women, as vulnerable, lacking the autonomy and ability to make their own decisions encouraging passive dependency.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted older people, particularly in terms of their physical and mental health. Due to the pandemic's restrictions, older people have experienced acute social isolation and limited social interaction leading to a rapid decline in their health and well-being. Unfortunately, it is likely that some of these negative effects will be irreversible for many.
“Improving the social inclusion of older persons in the Middle East requires a collaborative effort from governments, civil society, healthcare providers, the private sector, and the public. The evidence shows that we must act urgently. We must work together to promote a society that knows how to translate its values of respecting older persons into meaningful engagement, participation and social inclusion opportunities.”
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