With every passing minute, we all age. There is no way to turn back the hands of time, which leaves the only safe plan to prepare for the autumn of one’s life.
As many associate retirement and old age with destitution, others like 84-year-old Paskasio Makathimo and his wife Elizabeth, 80, from Meru, view it as the best years of their lives where they are free to pursue their interests.
In 2020, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2021 to 2030 as the Decade of Healthy Ageing to improve the lives of older people through fundamental shifts that will change how people think about growing old.
Member states are guided to focus on creating age-friendly environments, providing integrated and long-term care, a mindset that is already transforming lives for the better, even as the world prepares to celebrate the International Day of Older Persons on October 1.
Paskasio has been a coffee farmer most of his life. And after educating his nine children, he now enjoys the fruits of his labour- seeing them succeed in life.
Misheck Mwiti, his firstborn, says that his father continues to work on his farm, tending to his dairy cows and crops, including bananas for sale.
“I am still very strong and independent, but my children occasionally pass by for a cup of tea and to check up on my wife and me,” Paskasio said.
Elderly people are naturally prone to illnesses, but Parkasio generally enjoys good health. Their children ensure that their National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) payment is up to date, although they use it rarely, for occasional checkups.
The octogenarian attributes his wellness to a healthy diet and discipline as he never partook in alcohol or drugs when he was younger.
“If I had chosen to drink, my nine children would have not gone to school,” he said.
The couple sticks to a strict diet of legumes such as black beans (njahi) and peas, and tuber vegetables such as yams and arrowroots harvested from their farm.
They are also beneficiaries of the Sh2,000 monthly stipend from Inua Jamii programme launched by former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018 to support citizens aged 70 and above.
“My parents take voting as a very personal undertaking. In her youth, my mother took part in the fight for independence. Both belief in sound leadership. They were disappointed that the outgoing administration failed to fix the poor infrastructure,'' Misheck said.
Misheck, who retired at an early age, will be turning 60 next year and has put plans in place to ensure financial stability through his sunset years so as not to burden his children. He embodies the new trend among his agemates who plan well for retirement, unlike before when parents used to rely on their children’s support as they age.
“I admired business people and the freedom they have. When I was 45, I decided to retire and pursue my own business in construction and coffee farming. My agemates are currently retiring and going through the shock of not going to work every day as they have done for decades,” he said.
Psychologist Nelson Aseri notes that a person's life can be intertwined with their source of living, and upon retiring, a sense of loss may occur, leaving one struggling to understand who they are and what their value is.
“Transitions can be hard to manage. That is why most companies prepare and train their employees for retirement. When someone hangs their boots, their daily routine is altered. That means they have to create their own routine and find purpose again,” he said.
“If someone only focused on their job and did not do anything else, then that can develop depression and anxiety when they retire. They start wondering what they should do next.”
According to the psychologist, loneliness can cause depression, especially when children grow up, move out of home and leave an empty nest. When one retires, they also lose touch with colleagues who they saw every day at work and also served as their community.
Doris Nthenya, 66, knows the feeling all too well because she served as a flight attendant for 33 years.
“When you work in an industry that takes up a lot of your time, you lose out on making memories with your family and friends. They learn to live without you. When you retire and you finally have time with them, you will find that they have moved on without you,” she said.
She, however, is grateful that she travelled the world and had different unique experiences through her job but her favourite destination was always home, Nairobi.
Nthenya took early retirement to take care of her mother and spend more time with her. After she passed away, she decided to pursue her love for music by taking piano classes.
“You are never too old to follow your passions. Start doing the hobbies that you love but could not find time for when you were working,” said the former flight attendant.
She recalled the words of a trainer while she was working, advising those who would like to retire to start practising the things they would like to do during their retirement five years prior. She heeded the words, invested and saved the money that she now spends.
“Sort out your finances while you have the energy. Invest for your future. Some companies do not offer pensions to their employees. It is up to you to think about your future as you enjoy your youth,” Nthenya said while pointing out the importance of having medical insurance, even though getting an individual cover yearly is expensive.
Apart from NHIF’s Supacover which costs Sh500 per month, people aged over 60 have to fork out between Sh50,000 and Sh350,000 for private insurance with a waiting period of at least one year for those with underlying conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
“I joined up with some friends and colleagues to take up a group medical cover that helped me evade the waiting period due to my underlying health issues and save some money. Otherwise, I would have been forced to pay Sh200,000 per year for a cover.”
During her travels, Nthenya learnt about how other countries such as the United States take care of their senior citizens by only charging them half the fare while using public transportation.
“Regardless of how well one can take care of themselves, the government should take up initiatives to help take care of all senior citizens,” she said.
On December 14, 1990, the UN General Assembly designated October 1, as the International Day of Older Persons.
Speaking about this year’s theme, ‘Resilience of Older Persons in a Changing World’, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, termed it a reminder of the significant contributions that older people still have to make in all our lives.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, we saw many re-tired health workers return to work to help protect their communities. In Africa, millions of families also rely heavily on older relatives, from caring for grandchildren to contributing the much-needed income to households,” Dr Moeti said.
In June 2022, a survey by HelpAge International and the Humanitarian Development Consortium conducted in Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan revealed that 73 per cent of the elderly in the three countries did not have access to enough food while 56 per cent said that they only eat one meal a day.
Despite this, the UN states that life expectancy worldwide rose from 46 to 68 years between 1950 and 2010. Globally, there were 703 million persons aged 65 or over in 2019.
The international organisation predicts that the number of older persons worldwide is projected to increase to more than double the number over the next three decades, reaching more than 1.5 billion persons in 2050. All regions will see an increase in the size of the older population between 2019 and 2050.
Sub-Saharan Africa will have the second fastest increase as projected by the UN where the population aged 65 or over could grow from 32 million in 2019 to 101 million in 2050, an increase of 218 per cent.
The fastest increase in the number of older persons is expected in Northern Africa and Western Asia, rising from 29 million in 2019 to 96 million in 2050.