New policy guidelines unveiled this week aim to put more resources into helping the islands’ older residents and give specific protections to stop the neglect, fraud and abuse that some in government say is committed regularly against elderly people.
The Cayman Islands Older Persons Policy was released by Community Affairs Minister Osbourne Bodden and a task force that has been studying the issues facing Cayman’s elderly. The 20-year plan proposes numerous legislative changes and programs to protect people age 65 and older and make it easier for seniors to age in Cayman.
The starkest findings from stakeholder meetings and focus groups around the island point to patterns of neglect and abuse among many elderly people in the islands.
Minister Bodden said the group heard of cases of abuse and neglect, with seniors left hungry and uncared for while living alone. “This stuff happens all around us, let’s not kid ourselves,” he said, speaking at a press conference Monday where he released the policy.
The task force hosted a series of focus groups across the islands to determine the biggest issues facing seniors in Cayman. The people who attended, most of whom were over 60, talked about several common issues across the districts. Seniors, the task force found, were increasingly being left to live alone by their adult children and were having trouble taking care of themselves. They also found that seniors did not have enough income from a pension or the Needs Assessment Unit to make sure basic needs, like food, could be met.
The task force also heard of cases where people, most often family members, would take the money from pensions or welfare payments from the elderly.
Deborah Webb-Sibblies, chairwoman of the Older Persons Policy steering committee, said people made complaints to police in the cases she heard about.
“Growing up in the Cayman Islands, respect for our elderly was part of our culture,” she said.
Those cultural norms, she said, which meant that children would take over daily care of their parents as they got older, are disappearing.
Mr. Bodden blamed the cultural shift on population growth in the islands and “foreign influences.” He pointed to cases of grandmothers living alone, saying, “You never had that back then.”
And with elderly living alone and at times becoming isolated, the minister said, there are now “predators in this country targeting older people.”
People age 65 years and older make up about 6 percent of Cayman’s population, according to the most recent figures from the Economics and Statistics Office, with about 3,600 people.
“A society is known for how it treats its young and its elderly,” Mr. Bodden said, and the reforms proposed in the new report are “something society in the Cayman Islands badly needs.”
The policy report has a wide range of recommendations to protect elderly people and improve the lives of people who are aging in Cayman. The policy aims to promote more active lifestyles for older people, encouraging more activities and social services.
Ms. Webb-Sibblies said, “We realize that some older persons do a lot better in their home environment.”
She said government and organizations should do what they can to support elderly people who want to stay at home but may not have family to care for them.
Mr. Bodden said the islands need more basic resources, like additional access to adult day care, so older people can avoid being “cooped up all day.” Time socializing and learning in structured day care centers or in a less organized way helps “keep minds sharp” and would be important resources for elderly people in the islands.
The steering committee recommends expanding learning opportunities for pensioners, creating incentives for businesses to hire and retain people over age 65, and ensuring better bus service for elderly so people who cannot drive can more easily get around the islands.
In the healthcare sector, the policy pushes for improvements with the Health Services Authority, especially with access to primary healthcare providers and better home visits.
The committee also wants government to register residential facilities for the elderly and develop national standards for the facilities.
Cabinet approved the policy last month and gave the Community Affairs Ministry permission to develop new legislation to address issues identified in the policy report. Minister Bodden said he hopes to create a task force to work on the legislation and a standing Council for Older Persons to monitor how the policy is implemented and to push for additional reforms.