The first of October every year is the International Day of older persons. To mark this day, Dewdrop Foundation team was at the New Kuchingoro Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja on the 2nd of October 2020, to bring smiles on the faces of the elderly persons in the camp who have seen little or no interventions to cater for their welfare. We celebrated with them the International Day of Older Persons as well as the Global Decade of Health Ageing (2020-2030). We inaugurated the first older persons’ association in the camp – a meeting platform for persons aged 60 years and above. This is called the Seenagers Association.

“Because the elderly generally face social, political, economic, and gender exclusion in communities, Dewdrop Foundation establishes Seenagers Associations (safe platforms for elderly persons to meet and discuss issues of concern to them) with the aim of finding solutions to their most pressing problems – be they related to health, economic or social issues”, said Ms. Nneka Egbuna, the Assistant Programme Coordinator of Dewdrop Foundation, in her address.

These platforms have been very beneficial in promoting their rights and dignifying their voices as has been evident in over 11 communities in South East Nigeria, where Dewdrop Foundation, in partnership with Centre for Gender Economics (CGE) Africa have been working to criminalize elder abuse through a project funded by Oxfam/Voice. There has been a noticeable shift in the attitude of the community members towards the elderly in accepting them as individuals with valuable contributions to the society.

“On behalf of the old people in the camp, I thank Dewdrop Foundation for caring for our elderly, may God bless you”, said Hannatu, the female camp coordinator.

Ageing exposes men and women to prejudice, isolation, abandonment, and disabilities such as mental health disorders like Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In Nigeria, one in over ten people aged 65 years and above, and over 50% of those over 85 years old, have Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is not well known in local communities therefore the elderly persons who suffer from it are often labelled “mad” and in some extreme case are called “witches” due to their “mental disability” caused by the disease. This has led to elderly people being tortured and suffering untold abuse from their family members and caregivers in the local communities without recourse because they have “no voice”.

Elderly people (especially widows) in many local communities suffer a lot of abuse or physical torture in secret. Sadly, there is very limited recourse for elderly persons. Findings from a baseline survey conducted by Dewdrop Foundation and CGE Africa in 2019, established that older persons experience physical, emotional, neglect, sexual and financial abuse. Nearly 3 in 10 older persons across ten communities reported experiencing some form of abuse and/or neglect. Emotional abuse was the most common type of abuse observed, followed by neglect, then financial abuse, sexual abuse and physical abuse. Of those who were physically abused, many of them had broken bones.

Nigeria’s elderly population is increasing rapidly. According to the National Council on Ageing (2016) persons in Nigeria aged 65 years and above, made up 3.1% or 5.9 million of the total population of 191 million. The World Health Organization (WHO) observes that most older people live in developing countries. In 2020, for the first time in history, people aged 60 years or over will outnumber children under 5 years. By the end of the Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020–2030), the number of people aged 60 years and older will be 34% higher, increasing from 1 billion in 2019 to 1.4 billion. There is no comprehensive law on the care and welfare of older persons in Nigeria. This calls for concern.

To promote healthy ageing in Nigeria, there is the need for the protection of elderly persons’ rights to employment and retirement choices; increased attention to the nutrition of older people to reduce malnutrition that leads to dependency; as most health systems are not designed to cater for the chronic ailments of older persons, adequate health and social care needs of the ever-increasing numbers of older people is essential; and continuous learning and personal growth should not stop because a person is old. Additionally, we call for the implementation of sensitization campaigns and the training of caregivers on dementia, which is one of the causes of elder abuse.

Nneka Acholonu Egbuna
Assistant Programme Coordinator, Dewdrop Foundation