Social inclusion for old-age people in the UAE at the fore in emerging longevity sector
UAE policies currently focus on meeting the needs of youth and working-age individuals below the age of 65.
Most developed nations, including the US, UK, Australia, South Korea, Japan and Germany, have more elderly people than young populations. In contrast, the UAE population is quite young, with a median age of 32.6 in 2020. During the same year, the median age in Germany and Japan was 45.7 and 48.4, respectively.
A public policy focused on youth
The current life expectancy in the UAE in 2022 is 78.32 years, a 0.18 percent increase from 2021. Due to these age demographics, UAE policies currently focus on meeting the needs of youth and working-age individuals below the age of 65, who comprise 98.7 percent of the total population.
A shift towards meeting the needs of the elderly
In light of the rising elderly population and the growing concern about old-age care, the UAE has been gearing up for longevity–an emerging field focused on healthy ageing comprising technologies and software that aim to improve health and lengthen the lifespan of people.
Currently, UAE families take most of the responsibility for caring for their elderly. The shift from the extended family model towards smaller nuclear families and the lack of sufficient old-age care facilities will pose challenges that can exacerbate the burden of old-age care. These evolving social dynamics and infrastructural limitations will also have an impact on the healthcare sector and the national economy.
To avert the impending healthcare and economic challenges, the UAE is slowly making progress towards a sustainable and effective aged care system. Given the lack of research on ageing and the scarcity of senior care facilities, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research has undertaken a study to examine attitudes towards older people, gain in-depth knowledge about aged care, and understand Emiratis’ experiences, expectations and preferences for their older selves.
The study adopts the design of the Australian Government’s Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which tackled significant issues around aged care services in Australia, including the quality of services and person-centeredness, as well as the nationwide roll-out of such services.
Key components of the UAE’s endeavour to pioneer old-age care in the region
A focus on longevity to address the needs of the elderly is making its way to the top of the UAE government development agenda. Modern old-age care is not only a matter of national priority, it is also a categorical imperative for the elderly to feel acknowledged and valued.
1. Understanding the longevity industry: Most recently, Sharjah Research Technology & Innovation Park (SRTIP) and Deep Knowledge Analytics (DKA), have announced a first-of-a-kind partnership aimed at mapping and developing the longevity industry in the UAE. The partnership seeks to foster knowledge of relevant subsectors such as BioTech, pharmaceuticals, FinTech; identify major drivers of the industry across the country; and ultimately support the advancement of the knowledge economy across the nation.
One of the first steps in developing an effective infrastructure for Longevity governance and building healthy ageing strategies will be creating a detailed Longevity landscape analysis to profile and categorise companies, investors, R&D hubs, academic institutions, and industry professionals operating within the field. The partnership aims to enhance the knowledge about Longevity and promote its adoption nationwide.
2. Developing a sustainable care plan: From building physical healthcare centres to providing a personalised healthcare approach based on data and insights into senior people’s needs and aspirations, a care strategy is key to addressing the old-age challenge. A sound strategy should be based on the collective inputs of doctors and healthcare providers, family members, and the elderly themselves. While some senior people may only require occasional help with household chores, others may need long-term care due to serious and chronic illnesses.
3. Operating specialty healthcare facilities focused on longevity: Aviv Clinics, one of the leading healthcare service providers in Dubai, is simplifying the lives of the elderly through its various treatment plans.
The clinic builds on the very basic idea that as we age, our bodies lose their ability to channel oxygen efficiently. This causes the blood vessels to narrow and become clogged, which eventually limits the blood and oxygen flow to the brain and other organs. Aviv Clinics has designed the Aviv Medical programme to counteract this phenomenon. The programme is built around scientifically tested Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) sessions intended to help the body create new blood vessels, which will then help replenish the body’s access to oxygen and enhance the performance of the brain and the body.
4. Respecting personal preferences and cultural differences: A proportion of elderly people may feel embarrassed and uncomfortable receiving family care, leading them to favour paid aid from professional caregivers, especially for daily needs such as getting dressed or bathing. Social nuances of this nature should be on the government’s radar when devising an old-age support programme. The key success factor is to provide professional care while accommodating the wishes and respecting the privacy, personal preferences and cultural values of the elderly.
5. Maintaining dignity and autonomy of senior people: Older people tend to get worried about losing control over their actions. Supporting their everyday decision-making will help them retain a sense of purpose and take back control over their lives. To achieve this level of comfort and autonomy, caregivers need to establish trust through regular communication, encouraging older people to make decisions and do things they enjoy.
These initiatives will not only help old people maintain their physical health, but will also support their mental wellbeing.
A future brimming with longevity potential
Longevity trends in the UAE are evolving. Life expectancy at birth was 76.15 years in 2009. In 2019, it reached 77.97 years. This uptick in the ageing population is set to trigger considerable changes within the healthcare system.
The 2020s represent an exciting era for the UAE to advance its longevity agenda at the national level, and encourage the private sector, academia and investors to develop and advocate for longevity in support of the elderly population.