Costa Rica Ages Like Rich Countries”: Pensions and Care Feel Risk as Demographics Change

    The society must go through a process of adaptation to its new configuration

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    The aging processes of the population that in Europe and the United States took half a century, Costa Rica would be going through in a matter of two or three decades.

    So drastic is the warning from demographers and geriatricians, who point out that Costa Rica and its society must go through a process of adaptation to its new configuration.

    To measure the scenario, it is enough to see that the country currently has about half a million older adults. By 2040 -in less than two decades- the figure could rise to one million and before 2060 exceed one and a half million.

    “Costa Rica is currently one of the countries in the region that is experiencing the fastest aging process,” says Gilberth Brenes, from the Central American Population Center. “In Costa Rica it is going faster because the decline in fertility was or has been very, very fast. That has effects on the aging process,” he added.

    Statistically most significant

    The demographer Luis Rosero explained two key concepts to better understand the subject. On the one hand, there is biological aging, which depends on an increase in life expectancy.

    However, there is also population aging, which is more of an issue of proportions. Since there are fewer and fewer children and young people, older adults will represent a larger percentage of the population.

    To this is added that the group with the most weight in Costa Rica is that of people between 40 and 60 years old. These are heading towards older adulthood, so proportionally it will continue to increase. “By 2050, 1 out of every 5 people in Costa Rica will be older adults. In 2035, almost 1 in 8 will be older adults”, mentions Gilbert Brenes.

    The things that changed

    A recomposition of society will also imply changes in the structure that existed until now. Pensions are par excellence an example in this case. Here the system begins to falter and, again, quite rapidly.

    This is measured by the “generational support ratio”, which determines how many workers there are for each retiree. “Until not long ago, Costa Rica had about 10 people of working age for every person of retirement age,” said Rosero, detailing that everything changed quickly.

    According to their figures, for 2010 the ratio was 9 to 1. To date we are going for 6 to 1 and by 2030 we will have dropped to 5 to 1. This opens the doors to a critical point, because when it reaches 4 to 1, the problems will become really serious.

    Here another debate also opens and it is that of the retirement age. According to Rosero, the calculations were made by estimating a pension at age 65. But if it rises to 70 years, at least 15 years would be gained to reach the most serious levels.

    The resources with which the age of older adult is reached will also be key and the experts draw attention to the need to have additional savings to the pension such as the ROP (Archive).

    Other challenges for a country of older adults

    Coupled with the logical economic concerns, the experts also draw attention to a change in the social scheme. A more mature population will entail more demand for care and quality of life, as well as an adjustment in various activities.

    “We have an aging process that is very common in large countries,” says geriatrician Fernando Morales, Dean of the UCR Faculty of Medicine and former director of Hospital Blanco Cervantes. “European countries got rich and then got old. We, being poor, are getting older,” he added.

    According to the expert, although we have a robust health system, there are urgent adjustments to face the new age wave that we will have. In the first place, it points out that there is a difference between people aged 65 to 79 and those aged 80 and over, who require more attention. Of course, in general it stands out that there is already a lag.

    “In terms we are already in the red, we have been saying this for many years,” he mentioned. “We understand that we are in a terrible fiscal crisis. But it turns out that older adults are the ones who have contributed to making this country great, how are we going to turn them down now”?

    Not that bad

    Despite this panorama, it does highlight that there are areas in which we are not so bad. One case is that there is a geriatrician for every 4,000 older adults, while in the rest of Latin America there is a specialist for every 12,000 people. The optimal goal, he clarified, is a geriatrician for 1,000 elderly people.

    For now, he warns that specialized health services should be strengthened and changes should begin to be made in areas such as emergencies. This is because older adults go through the same protocols as the rest.

    The doctor also made a section to address older adults after the pandemic. In his opinion, the measures affected this population and also increased the group of older adults in poverty.

    Given this, Morales closed by talking about other key measures to maintain quality of life. These include preventive health, community support and the strengthening of care networks, which should be expanded as demand grows.
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