[Matt Maura / Bahamas Information Services] NASSAU, The Bahamas — Bahamians must make aggressive changes in their lifestyles and habits that promote healthy living in order to live more productive, healthier lives as they age, Minister of Health Dr. the Hon. Hubert A. Minnis said Wednesday.

Addressing the opening session of a two-day symposium on aging hosted by officials of Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre in support of World Health Day, 2012, Dr. Minnis said world health statistics indicate that populations around the world are “rapidly aging” and living longer lives.

He said, as a result, world citizens (Bahamians included) must address and promote changes to lifestyles and habits that do not promote healthy living if they want to live “longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.”

“The number of persons aged 60 and over today has doubled (in just over 30 years) and according to the World Health Organization, two billion people will be 60 and older by 2050,” Dr. Minnis said.

“Of those, the number of persons aged 80, will quadruple to 395 million. This worldwide trend is reflected in our commonwealth as it is estimated that within the next five years, the number of adults aged 65 and over, will be greater than the number of those under the age of five years,” Dr. Minnis added.

Dr. Minnis said the adoption of healthy lifestyles and habits should begin at an early age to avoid many of the ailments associated with aging.

“These (ailments) include non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease, most of which are preventable or inexpensive to treat,” Dr. Minnis said.

“Avoidance of these diseases begins early in life with the adoption of healthy behaviours such as significant physical activity, healthy eating habits and the avoidance of excessive alcohol and tobacco. People who adopt these behaviours early, will have a healthier old age,” Dr. Minnis added.

Dr. Minnis said public healthcare officials – particularly those at the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre, Geriatrics Hospital, Public Hospitals Authority, Department of Public Health and the Ministry of Health – have put in place a number of programmes aimed at addressing healthy lifestyles and habits.

He said Bahamians must take heed of the many education and awareness programmes on prevention being facilitated at community healthcare clinics and primary healthcare centres in addition to those being employed at the country’s three tertiary public healthcare institutions, to avoid many of the health issues associated with aging.

The Health Minister said proper attention to healthcare, which he called an individual responsibility, will result in a reduction in the need for hospitalization (tertiary care).

“We all know that the health issues aging brings can impact us all, some sooner than others,” Dr. Minnis said, “but there are some things that each of us can do now to avoid many of those issues.”

Dr. Minnis said public health officials continue to address issues involving treatment of the aged, among them, the renovation of five wards at the Geriatrics Hospital that will allow medical personnel to continue to provide quality care through modern technology; the facilitation of the training of caregivers in community homes as well as healthcare institutions, and through the implementation of programmes at the community level to support care for the aged.

“The proposed 10-year National Strategic Health Plan, developed by the Ministry of Health, the Department of Public Health and the Public Hospitals Authority, contains programmes that include the active involvement of the aged and their families,” Dr. Minnis said.

He said while healthcare officials have implemented numerous provisions to treat those elderly persons who have been impacted by the ailments associated with aging, they would prefer having a healthy, ageing population.

“Our healthcare facilities and professionals charged with treating our elderly, have performed admirably in their task,” Dr. Minnis said, “but prevention is always better than treatment.

“Let us make the necessary changes needed to ensure that we live healthier lives as we live longer lives. Let us all remember that older people make important contributions as family members, volunteers, and as active participants in the workforce and are a significant social and economic resource,” Dr. Minnis added.