The National Senior Citizens Center seem to have hit the ground running since it was constituted about two years ago. It was constituted in 2021 after the 2017 Act came into force that gave it powers to among others standardize, and regulate caregiving in Nigeria. Hitherto, elderly person’s homes, whether run by missionaries or private organisations derive their operational codes from practices introduced by caregivers who have practised overseas.
The NSCC Act is perhaps, the first attempt by any government in Nigeria to reimage the life of senior citizens. The various partnerships that Dr Emem Omokaro’s-led leadership are harnessing show a clear direction of what is achievable when an organization is focused on its mandate. Particularly delightful is the recent agreement in principle to get the National Board of Technical Education to devise a curriculum for the upskilling of people who are already in the caregiving space and those who want to find a career path in that direction. Establishing a “national benchmark” for setting minimum standards and curriculum for certifying caregivers is as important as understanding the needs of the elderly.
Interestingly, the Centre has acknowledged the special needs of the elderly particularly in rural communities and primed itself to work towards better care for them. For this, a partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health has also been initiated. The form it would take has not yet been disclosed by the senior citizens centre. As additional agenda, health insurance professionals should be part of the team working out a framework for better medical care of older persons.
Upscaling investments into the facilities already existing for caregiving should be a direct priority of the federal government and state governments through the NSCC. In order to obtain a spot assessment of what is ground, the NSCC should undertake a tour of top caregivers in the country on a zonal basis and evaluate possible public-private partnerships that are result-driven and aimed at edifying these facilities. Aside from investment into physical facilities, mass enrolment in basic healthcare insurance and special needs insurance of the seniors are crucial to elevating these homes.
In order to have an understanding of the imperative for the establishment of senior citizens centres as well the motivation driving individuals or groups to set up a caregiving home for seniors, one only needs to imagine some stories one had heard, read or watched a couple of times when old people slump and die while queueing to receive their pensions. Again, it is possible to recall the after-work or retirement life of an uncle, dad and any such relatives – boredom, unusual routines and gradual loss of hold on life or the withdrawal syndrome almost akin to the old person’s loss of confidence towards contributing meaningfully to society.
Then follows diseases associated with this phase of life. Whereas individuals should take responsibility for their failing health before old age, lots of circumstances beyond the capacity of some persons may hinder them from being able to take care of themselves. However, beyond family or community care for the elderly, a sustainable healthcare system built around insurance is the preferred and affordable means to a healthier population.
Retirement as a new phase of life
Society, the community and indeed humankind, all of us are responsible for the prevailing conditions of the aged people in our midst because we formed and fostered a wrong, albeit debilitating concept of retirement. In my earlier article, I pointed out that the development of the individual is unstoppable. However, transitions occur in between which simply means that the forms of development change as we grow older. In real terms, retirement is not retirement unless a terminal illness dictates otherwise. The education that should be woven into the consciousness of schooling is that continuous development, as the name implies, has no limit to age. It is a law that we must continually live or get scrapped if we choose to not live.
Therefore, the NSCC has a huge responsibility of not only developing a career path for caregivers but also upskilling the seniors to contribute actively to their communities. The specific modalities may be developed in accordance with groupings based on their experiences in addition to what impassions them. The fraternal inclinations of the elderly must also be taken into consideration while putting them in various groups. The majority of seniors are motivated to give back to society and if this energy is channelled deliberately to where it is needed, both the giver and the received are greatly enhanced.
The insurance needs of the elderly
Although insurance should aid us through life and not something that should emerge at the tail end of the earthly cycle, still it is important to highlight the special needs medical and healthcare insurance. Sometimes the two terms, medical and healthcare insurance may be interchanged, it is better to use the terms to describe what it offers. Medical insurance often refers to covers relating to pre-existing conditions or existing medical conditions while healthcare insurance may be used to describe basic healthcare for common illnesses.
Most children pray for a healthy long life for their parents. The best way this prayer can work well is to purchase healthcare insurance for their access to routine and required medical attention. This requires that at the time families start buying health insurance packages, parents should be part of it. Out-of-pocket expenses never suffice to maintain the healthcare needs of a family and their aged parents. Starting early ensures that you don’t have to deal with burgeoning health insurance costs later.
Domiciliary Care, Higher care, psychiatric care and other pre-existing conditions insurance are important considerations for the purchase of insurance for seniors. Due to the mobility challenges of most seniors, domiciliary care insurance covers the cost of home medical treatment. Depression and dementia are also common at this stage of life and to ensure adequate treatment psychiatric cover is essential. Overall, it is better to opt for higher coverage of healthcare insurance for older people so that basic hospitalization and post-hospitalization would be covered. Add-ons may include dialysis and other special needs.
Since the country now has an organization dedicated to raising the standard of care for older people, the starting point for NSCC should be enumeration. The planned census, if well conducted will give the Centre the population to work out their operations and extend the much-needed hand to rural communities where the majority of the older people live. Many do not have access to any form of medical treatment for their ailments, and most live in poor conditions without adequate hygiene, thus exposed to a greater danger of infections.
In conclusion, care for the elderly should be defined in an all-embracing way to delineate preparatory years to 70 and the actions to be taken by families, groups or the government. The existing National Social Register of Poor and Vulnerable Households should be filtered to get more authentic figures. The Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, the supervising ministry for NSCC claims to have more than 200,000 elderly persons in its register. This is the time to approach health insurance companies to put together programmes that will benefit our seniors.
It is also important that the National Policy on Ageing which establishes and institutionalizes the framework in NSCC for the social and economic integration of the elderly are popularized among the population.