Turkish population is quietly, rapidly aging, says professor
Despite the fact that Turkey has a rapidly aging population, the state still lacks a proper policy for aging, according to a prominent gerontologist. Turks will be unhappy at an old age as they do not make any plans about aging, Professor İsmail Tufan from Akdeniz University has told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Turkey keeps promoting itself as having a young population. But it seems like it is becoming a country that has an aging population.
Turkish society is aging in a quiet and rapid way. What I mean by quiet is that we do not see many old people in the streets. Compared with the advanced industrialized countries, we do not come across so much with problems of old age as individuals or as a society.
Yet in all cities and provinces of Turkey we are starting to experience the problems of aging. We consider people of age 70 years and older as old age, but actually, according to science, we start to age the moment we start breathing.
As gerontologists, we believe Turkey is in the process of aging. Today we have 10 million people who are 60 years and above and nearly 9 million are 65 and older. But when making assessments about aging in Turkey, we need to consider the five-year difference between us and the advanced industrialized countries.
There are major differences between Turkey and advanced countries in terms of our aging problems, as well as our perception of aging.
Why is that?
We get worn out much more intensely than the citizens of advanced countries. People in Turkey who are 75 years old and older still worry about their children and grandchildren, they are still preoccupied with their children’s employment or unemployment problems.
And the advanced countries also have brought institutional solutions to some of the problems of aging. Whereas Turkey’s institutions, be it at the central government level or the local administration level, have not yet come with solutions that facilitate aging. We are still looking for answers to what kind of services will be provided during old age. Will it be the responsibility of the family or will there be professional services provided by the state?
What is the situation in terms of demography?
Although Turkey is clearly an aging country, we only started debating this phenomenon in 2000. We struggled at that time to establish gerontology departments. The first gerontology department was founded in 2006, and education started in 2009. Currently we have around 150 graduates.
In 2000 we said that people are aware that we are getting old but there is no consciousness about it. We had projected that Turkey will reach 100 million in 2050 and have 30 million people at age 60 and older. We were wrong. According to recent figures, we will reach 100 million in 2040. Birth rates are falling fast in Turkey. So we will start feeling the problems of old age. Who will, for instance, take care of old people? How will they be taken care of, and who will finance it? We need to think of the huge burden that will be brought onto the social security system.
For years we have been in a way screaming that Turkey is getting old and that this will bring very important social problems.
In that sense I am very happy to see that finally a conference on aging was held for the first time in Turkey last month.
That means the state has started to see this problem as well. It now has to start finding solutions together with civil society, academia and the science community.
We urgently need a policy to face the problems of aging. And we need to focus especially on two points. First, we will have an advanced age problem; people aged 80 and above. We will therefore face health and care issues. The second is the need for qualified personal.
Where is Turkey in terms of illnesses related to old age?
Let me first underline that we urgently need to have geriatric departments in our medical universities. These departments need to be interdisciplinary to include diagnosis, treatment as well as social and psychological dimensions. Every individual has to go through a dignified aging process. Aging is not the problem of the individual.
It seems that it took some time to have this understanding since in Turkey taking care of the elderly is seen rather like the responsibility of the family.
Due to social norms and social control mechanisms people in our society do not consider sending their elderly to an institution where they take care of the elderly. People think they can take care of their elderly and solve their problems. But in fact they cannot.
This has started to change recently. Why? Because of desperation which changes our way of thinking. When five sisters and brothers live in different cities with their parents who need to be taken care of, it is not sustainable when they take care of their parents on a rotating fashion. While the family tries to be protective, the whole process ends up harming the family as a result of disagreements within the family. Indeed the family is the strongest and oldest institution, but if we can create a care insurance system, which can assume the responsibility of the aging process institutionally, it will also support the wellbeing of the family. In addition, in Turkey usually it is women who take care at home of the elderly. As a result, women end up being confined to the house.
What are the other potential problems that await Turkey in terms of aging?
First of all we will have to face an unemployed crowd, or masses that are not working. Second we will see the womanization of old age. Women live longer than men, therefore, there will be women-specific aging issues. Another issue is that of becoming single; that will bring with it the issue of loneliness.
Today we have more than one million people suffering from dementia, half of whom suffer from Alzheimer’s. These are the illness of this century. Loneliness is a factor that triggers dementia.
In the future we will see more people of age 80 and above and fewer children aged 5 and younger. And we will have to live side by side with people in need of care.
So we have to start taking the necessary measures. As of today, we can say that not a bright future is awaiting elderly people in Turkey.
Do you mean to say that Turks will end up being unhappy old people as they do not plan their aging process?
That’s right. I interviewed a 103-year-old woman called Hatice Ataş. She said: “I turned around and all of a sudden I saw that old age had come.” We think old age will just come one day. But we get older every day. And I am definitely talking about being unhappy during old age because we have no projects at all regarding old age. We have no initiative about it.
I talk with elderly people. They say: “We have a stable income and a house, but after a while it becomes frustrating and boring to just go to shopping malls, drawing classes and dance centers.”
That’s the point at which we need to think how people with old age can take up certain missions. What type of talents they can acquire to continue to live a better life. That’s why we initiated the “university of refreshing” in Antalya. We provide courses not only on issues like health and diet, but also on other diverse issues like law and accounting.
WHO IS İSMAİL TUFAN?
Prof. İsmail Tufan is currently the head of the gerontology department at Akdeniz University in Antalya. He founded the department in 2006.
Born in 1961, he studied in the social pedagogy department of Technische Universitaet in Berlin and is also a graduate of the Faculty of Gerontology of the Osnabruck University in Germany. He got his doctorate degree from the Freie Universitaet in Berlin.
Tufan initiated the gerontology atlas of Turkey, the country’s first scientific research on aging and elderly people. He is also the founder of the “university of refreshing,” targeting students above 60 years of age.
He established care centers for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia in Antalya as well as the Aegean provinces of Aydın, Nazilli, İzmir and Ordu and the district of Dinar.