This series of blog posts by author Patti Digh will focus on issues of aging in the countries whose wines we will taste at our Wine Around the World event on October 6, 2016. There are a limited number of tickets left. Don’t miss this unforgettable event! Purchase online or stop by our office at 105 King Creek Blvd, Hendersonville, NC.
URUGUAY PROVIDES A MODEL FOR ELDER CARE
by Patti Digh
With the largest proportion of people 60 years and older, Uruguay represents the “oldest” nation in Latin America — indeed, in the entire Western Hemisphere. As with other Latin American and Caribbean countries, declines in infant mortality have helped spur increases in life expectancy in Uruguay.
Uruguay is also one of South America’s wealthiest and urban nations. In Uruguay, a girl can now expect to live to 78 years — some 27 years longer that her Haitian counterpart. In Haiti, still a largely rural society, 103 infants die for every 1,000 births — seven times the rate of Uruguay.
Decreasing birth rates have also influenced the growth in the proportion of older people in Uruguay. Their drop in birth rates reflects — among other things — relatively high achievements in education. Adult literacy is high, with 98 percent of female Uruguayans 15 years and older being literate, compared with 97 percent of males.
In recent years, Uruguay has established around 150 “grandparents clubs,” state-sponsored recreational centers for the elderly. The centers are part of an array of services that has made Uruguay, the “grayest” country in Latin America, an international model for treatment of senior citizens.
For about $2 a month, club members, some well into their 90s, enjoy all the yoga, aerobics and dance classes they want. Medical care is a few steps away at a well-stocked clinic. And, like all Uruguayan retirees, if they want a change of scenery, they can take a state-subsidized vacation at a dude ranch or beach resort.
In Uruguay, there are about as many retirees – 700,000 – as there are children in grade school. What could have been a social disaster has become a source of national pride. Uruguay has become internationally recognized for its treatment of the elderly. Even the Japanese have come to study programs considered more advanced than those in many wealthier First World nations.
Besides financial assistance to the grandparents clubs and subsidized vacations at two government-owned resorts, the state provides psychological therapy to help citizens adjust to retirement. Grants are offered to more than 400 retirement homes scattered around the nation, slightly larger in size than New York state. The poorest receive housing and low-cost access to private health care.
The Uruguayan Congress is preparing to debate a new bill of rights for the elderly to extend benefits further. Already, the state mandates that sons or daughters care for their aging parents or provide for them financially.
The kindness, however, has a cost. Almost half the taxes – which are higher than those in most of Latin America – go for pensions and social services for senior citizens. Sales taxes alone top 23 percent.
But it isn’t merely the state that embraces the old – it’s society.
“For us, it’s cultural,” said Elbio Mendez Areco, general director of Uruguay’s Labor and Social Welfare Ministry. “We go beyond the Latin tradition of family closeness. For us, it is a social crime not to give the elderly the attention they deserve.”
The government has launched “age sensitivity” classes for children this year, reinforcing the message that the elderly are to be revered and cared for. In other state-sponsored classes, the two generations do arts and crafts and sing songs. The program, less than a year old, is so successful that some children sent homemade cards to their new “adopted family” on Uruguay’s Grandparents Day.