Opinion

The life of seniors in Chile

Columnist Orlando Delano enjoys a ‘almuerzo’ or lunch in Chile with friends. - ORLANDO DELANO/Special to the News
Columnist Orlando Delano enjoys a ‘almuerzo’ or lunch in Chile with friends.
— image credit: ORLANDO DELANO/Special to the News

Recently, my wife and I traveled to South America, specifically to Chile, but we also had the opportunity to spend time in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

The continental part of Chile extends for 4,400 km from its northern limit with Peru and Bolivia, all the way, between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, to  Antarctica.

The country is blessed with three varieties of climate:  the dry desert in the north, where the largest copper mines in the world are located; the fertile central zone (Mediterranean climate), known for its abundance of a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and farm lands, ideal for the production of wine.

These natural resources and their sub products are also another source of exportation to the world. Several saw mills, now in operation in the southern part of the country, were set up by Canadian companies over three decades ago. The rich coast of the Pacific Ocean  is also a source of abundance of fish, sea weed and shellfish.

Life expectancy in Chile is 78.1 years with a world ranking of 35 out of 194 and has a literacy rate of 98.6%. Senior citizens currently make up ten percent of Chile’s population, but by the year 2025, they will count for twenty five percent. Gerontologists are increasingly worried that the nation’s aging population is not getting the health care they need and more doctors and specialized support medical staff should be trained

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of homes for the elderly, which are mostly privately owned for profit or sponsored by non-profit local organizations and church groups. This trend is gradually becoming a more usual alternative for seniors and a respite for their families.

Traditionally, elderly people in Latin America were taken care of by their families in their homes until their passing. In fact, several decades ago, it was inconceivable to see an older senior living in an environment that was not his or hers, unless the individual was indigent. “My grandmother lived  in a “casa de reposo” (a seniors’ home) for a while.

“It was not her normal environment and we would have liked to keep her in her own place,  where she lived independently all her life, but that was not an option at that time,” said Marisol Quezada, a 47-year old resident of Santiago.

Today, Chile is one of the  most stable and prosperous nations in the southern hemisphere. It also ranks high regionally in sustainability of the state, and democratic development.

There is a number of typical characteristics of this country that are worth highlighting.

For example, Chileans eat well and enjoy their “almuerzo” (lunch), which is their main meal of the day and their traditional “once” (the afternoon tea), which consists of a light meal as well as the tea... And, by living in an environment that produces a wealth of fresh produce, they enjoy the consumption of daily fresh vegetables and fruits they get from the street “ferias”  (farm markets).

With a population reaching 16 million, 70 per cent of Chile’s population is Roman Catholic (and 90 per cent among seniors), as in all the Spanish-speaking countries, and 15.1 per cent Evangelical (term used for non-catholic Christian churches).

Other interesting aspects of today’s Chilean society are the passion for “fútbol”, (soccer), a sport that dominates almost any conversation in the streets, the bars or any household. “I used to go to the games several years ago”, comments Jorge Quezada, an 80-year fútbol fan, who, in younger days, also enjoyed playing soccer. Nowadays, I use my old radio to listen to the fútbol games transmitted live from the stadiums, like in the old days,” he said.

All and all, our visit was enjoyable and educational and it was also a good opportunity for us to see first hand how some seniors live in general and the support they get from their families and their community.

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