ROME, Italy — Italy is Europe’s third-largest economy comprising of a population of 60.8 million. The Mediterranean country also has the greatest percentage of citizens of or above the age of 65, making up 21.4% of the population. The aging of the baby boomer generation, longer life expectancy and low birth rates contribute to this demographic. Combined, these are apt conditions to slow possible economic growth as success is contingent upon both the quality and quantity of the workforce.
An aging population affects economic sustainability without proper resources. The uncertain future of the Italian economy lays bare the need for a policy that lends itself towards a more “healthy and active” aging by addressing elderly needs with proper assistance and care. This progressive policy involves lessening the tax burden from the shoulders of the older, more feeble portion of the elderly along with improved home care. The movement toward reform is essential as elderly poverty in Italy has reached rates of 8.2% in relative poverty and 4.2% in absolute poverty. Widowed women are primarily the ones without means of income and in constant fear of eviction. This percentage of the population is in dire need of programs and aid as most are incapable of making a dependable living and staying safe in the pandemic.
How COVID-19 Has Impacted Elderly Communities
The global COVID-19 pandemic took a devastating toll on the Italian citizens and the economy. Poverty levels that had been steadily growing for four years prior to 2019 were on a decline before the impact of COVID-19. As of June 2020, 4.6 million Italian citizens were living in absolute poverty unable to afford basic necessities. Meanwhile, an estimated additional 1 million citizens were unable to purchase goods and crucial services. Though poverty mainly affects youth in Italy, COVID-19 has left the elderly in long periods of social isolation and without economic opportunity, especially if their family financially supports them. Estimates have determined that over 1.6 million citizens above the age of 65 live in poverty in Italy. The Italian government must consider elderly poverty in Italy seriously as the elderly mainly rely on government assistance for survival, their fate determinant upon the health of the economy.
The elderly community is the most vulnerable to the Coronavirus, mentally and physically. Italian inhabitants above the age of 70 made up 84% of Italian deaths. The elderly are more susceptible to the virus as they are immunocompromised and have much longer and grueling recovery times. Inundated with cases, healthcare workers found ventilators and other essential life-saving equipment unavailable or hard to find. Nursing homes, particularly in Northern Italy, have little government assistance allowing for proper protective measures and social distancing. Besides the potential physical toll the virus can have on the elderly community, the elderly sacrificed mental health in long periods of quarantine as they face loneliness in the inability to see loved ones or accompany those who have lost their lives. Those 65 and older have received instruction to stay home for their protection, to curb the spread of the disease and to ease the pressure on the healthcare system.
The Italian healthcare system was unprepared for an event of this caliber. However, from this tragedy, effective policy and practices have emerged to better equip Italian doctors, nurses, nursing homes and the elderly community as well as managing elderly poverty in Italy. In May 2020, the government provided financial assistance for families and companies impacted by the virus as well as subsidies for those without income or pension. Widows with low reversibility pensions benefit from this legislation as well as other elderly citizens confronting economic drought. These measures provide the elderly community, and the elderly living in poverty, with economic security in unstable times.
The Ministry of Health recently implemented a new commission spearheaded by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the top official on life issues, to analyze and reform elderly care. Its mission is to reconceptualize the way others regard the elderly community. The Ministry of Health has assembled a group of specialists in law, medicine, social assistance and urban planning in order to prepare methods for the elderly to receive care in the comfort of their homes and without the threat of isolation and loneliness. Telemedicine and improved healthcare systems are part of this vision as well as structuring homes differently. Many elderly live in top-floor apartments with few accessible entrances and exits. Longer stoplights would add protection and safety to the lives of the elderly, as well. The commission focuses on treating the elderly with respect and allowing them to continue living where they are comfortable and out of isolation.
Only Up From Here
In March 2020, Italy was one of the Coronavirus hotspots in the initial outbreak of the pandemic, with the economy taking a dive due to shutdowns. Major problems in elderly care became clear which remains the silver lining to the chaos. The Italian government and the Vatican have been attentive to the needs of the elderly in light of the Coronavirus as well as the elderly poverty rates, providing financial sustenance and offering serious systemic change. The Vatican office for Laity, Family and Life pushed youths to extend compassion and kind gestures to the elderly community who face the worst of the pandemic. Examination of elderly care by experts in all fields serves to answer the injustice and inequality the aging community confronts. The Italian government, along with help from the Vatican, has taken seriously the issues of its most vulnerable.
– Lizzie Herestofa