In an increasingly aging world, the title of this article reflects one of today’s key areas of study. In an attempt to respond to this assertion Granma International spoke with doctor and Professor Jesús Menéndez, specialist at the Longevity, Aging, and Health Research Center (Cited).
“One day someone told me an anecdote about a man who said to a woman: You spend your lives complaining. The woman responded: Yes, it’s true, but in the end we bury you,” stated the professor in a story which perfectly sums up the aforementioned dilemma.
“Currently, almost 20% of Cubans (19.8% of the population) are going grey, and soon there will be many more, in a phenomenon known in other countries as the silver tsunami. Elderly women (53.2%) outnumber elderly men, living an average of four years more,” noted the interviewee, who quickly added, “But living longer doesn’t necessarily mean living better.”
According to the expert, although the majority of elderly people are independent, as a person’s age increases so do chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, and arthritis, to name just a few examples.
In the same way the number of dependent people has also risen, noted Menéndez, who pointed out that the health of the elderly should not be measured by the number of illnesses they suffer, but by their ability to lead full and independent lives.
Today, life expectancy at birth in Cuba is an average of 78.45 years for both sexes, 80.45 years for women and 76.5 for men. However, those who reach 60 years of age are expected to live a further 22 years; while 80 year olds can expect to live for another nine, according to the 2016 Health Statistics Annual Report.
Menéndez noted that the health of elderly women in Havana was evaluated in a study conducted several years ago by researchers at Cited, during which they were asked to A) state the number of chronic illnesses they suffer; B) give a self-evaluation of their health; and C) indicate whether they suffer from a disability or not.
When women’s responses were compared with those of men’s, it was clear that elderly women had a more negative opinion of their health, and suffered from more illnesses and disabilities than their male counterparts, he reported.
“In today’s society, women are being asked to join the workforce, look after their children and their elders. However, we can’t confirm that this is why women’s’ health is poorer than men’s,” noted the professor.
He went on to add that similar results have been seen in almost all studies conducted on the issue in other countries.
There could be various reasons for this. From a biological point of view, women suffer from arthritis-related conditions more frequently than men; on the other hand, estrogen seems to have beneficial effects on mental and brain activity, although a decline in its production with the onset of menopause causes a decrease in these protective effects.
However, biology isn’t the only possible cause according to the specialist, who noted that cultural customs also play a part. “Ever since women were born they have never had the opportunity to develop their true potential, as many put the needs of others above their own. It’s what they have been taught, and what they have done all their lives. Meanwhile, women are traditionally the “main caregivers” in the home: looking after children, spouses, parents, rather than themselves,” he stated.
“What happens to women who find themselves in this stage of more acute decline? Could their daily lives be responsible? Do women possess exceptional characteristics that enable them to live longer? It is, after all, women who ensure the continuation the human species. So, does a woman’s ability to give birth mean that although she may suffer from poorer health, she is able to live longer? These questions require further study to shed more light on the subject. However, there is no doubt that a long-term care system, which represents a challenge for today’s society, will allow both men and women to live better and longer lives,” noted the expert.