Keynote Address - Professor Anthony de Bono

Professor Anthony de Bono opened up his keynote address by highlighting the fact that the general trend is that life is longer than it used to be. People who reach old age are no longer the exception, but the norm. This term is also known as 'longevity'. It is expected that over the next twenty years the number of elderly people in the world will be doubled, and around one third of the population will be elderly. The factors responsible are the decreased fertility and advances in medicine. The consequences of this will affect everyone in the next few decades.

The old people of today are enjoying better health, nutrition, care, living conditions and respect. They are more active and get involved in human affairs and in modern society generally. Many continue in work for many years after attaining retirement age.

In the medical sense, 'ageing' is the process of deterioration that affects most organs, systems, cells and molecular structure in the body. As the years go by the functions of the body weaken and cause the body to be come frail. However, with the help of modern science, assistance is available to slow down the process of ageing, and the process of living longer is implemented. Therefore 'longevity' becomes the cure of ageing in some respect. Of course, human life will have to end at some stage, but at least it is now possible to prevent unnecessary deaths as a result of lack of provision for those who are getting on in years. The challenge of healthy longevity is indeed formidable.

Another extremely important area for concern is accommodation. While the best place for the elderly is with their families, this is increasingly difficult or impossible. Alternative accommodation must be provided. The care for the elderly including long-term care is in a period of evolution and most would agree that large institutions should possibly be avoided.

The Maltese phenomenon of longevity has been longstanding even before our present times. ln l532 Quintinus wrote his description of Malta and pointed out that one of the remarkable things was that most people seemed to live past the age of eighty years. At that time life expectancy was barley forty years.

Since 1969 Malta played an important role in the United Nations assemblies, which dealt with the question of ageing in the world. The importance of organizing appropriate training in all relevant sectors at all levels was highlighted. Today such training courses are enhanced by a widespread network and distance learning programmes. Malta has maintained its advocacy role in international ageing.

Maltese communities abroad provide an ideal opportunity to compare elderly groups with those in Malta, in particular the effect of environmental factors on those with related gene pools. This would help understand conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and maybe lung cancer, which are very prevalent in the elderly Maltese.

In conclusion, the Professor stated that longevity is a paramount socioeconomic concern. The rapid increase in the over eighty population poses increased challenges. He suggested that a genuine exchange of ideas and information with the Greater Malta Community can enhance the quality of life for the elderly, and at the same time make a worthwhile contribution to world ageing.

Source: 'Malta' - Maltese Culture Movement, Issues 4,5,6, 2000.

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