Questions we may ask ourselves as we age might include: who’s going to care for us? How will we afford that care? Will we become a burden for our loved ones? Should we spare them and explore retirement home options? None of these questions are easy. They’re especially difficult in societies where people tend to feel more alienated. But in some cultures, where family ties are strong, the dynamics of care may be clearer even despite the challenges in aging.
Dependency in Costa Rica
A preliminary analysis from recent data on dependency and care in Costa Rica suggests that 50 percent of people 60 and over who were consulted suffer from at least one functional limitation, which can be defined as any basic ability that is no longer easily executed on a physical or mental level, such as problems with sight or difficulty communicating, to name a few.
Furthermore, the percentage of this population that also suffers from at least one chronic disease is close to 70 percent. Despite the high rates of chronic disease and difficulties faced in daily tasks, only about 10 percent of the elderly population consulted receives support. Although this may seem alarming, some limitations and diseases may at first be relatively mild.
Listed among the situations that require the most support are ‘Self-Care’ activities. A high percentage of the elderly surveyed received support for tasks such as bathing or eating. The second most drastic limitation is ‘Inability to communicate’. Lastly, close to 30 percent of all the support provided for this age group focuses on individuals with limited physical ability.
Confronting Challenges with Love
The task of providing long term support falls mainly on the women of the family. Available data shows that 89 percent of caretakers are family members, and 75 percent are women. Furthermore, about 63 percent of Costa Rican female caretakers are aged 40 through 69 years old. These figures are in line with the findings of recent studies on family structures within Latin America and the Caribbean.
But who are they caring for? Mostly, the heads of the household and their partner, and/or their parents or in-laws. Heads of household received about the same amount of support from their children or step children as from their partners— about 45 percent. Their partners, on the other hand, received care mostly from the heads of household themselves (70 percent) and less so from the household’s children (25 percent). Parents who had come to depend on their children for financial and day-to-day support received approximately 60 percent of care from them and 30 percent from their partner.
Three major dynamics of caregiving in ageing Costa Ricans:
- The first is one of mutual care between ageing couples, where as one partner grows more dependent the other tends to their needs.
- The second dynamic involves children who become responsible for their parents and take an active role in supporting them.
- This may lead, in turn, to a third dynamic where children either move or take in their parents to be taken care of by themselves or their partner.
But will Love Suffice?
As is common throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, Costa Rican families tend to stay together, which means many households have at least one person above the age of 60. The traditional system of assistance to older adults, although heavily dependent on familial relationships, consists of several inter familial relationships and does a relatively good job of spreading much of the responsibility of support to dependency among multiple caretakers. However, future trends of increased global aging will also affect Costa Rica and may prove overwhelming for a system that rests almost entirely on familial support. It is important for policymakers to take this into consideration as we move closer to 2050, when projections estimate that one in four individuals will be older than 60 on a global scale. In the next decades, Costa Rica is expected to transition into an ‘aged society’, and the dynamics of care will have to adapt to this new reality. Will families and institutions be ready?
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