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Aging in Africa: 7 Interesting Facts About How Africans Treat Their Old


Aging in Africa isn’t news. It shows that getting old is inevitable. And with this understanding, most African cultures care for their family in old age.

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Africa is famous for its richness of culture and traditions. Some of which it has managed to uphold and pass down generations despite modernization and Western influence. 

Despite this, aging in Africa comes with benefits and cons. And this is from caregiving to seeking counsel. Reports indicate that by 2050, the older population in Africa may triple, topping other continents. And so it’s interesting to explore how Africans treat their old.  Keep reading to learn more.

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Family Members & the Community Are the Primary Caregivers

Aging in Africa comes with a myriad of challenges. For starters, old people often suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis, and cardiovascular illness, to mention but a few. These health issues deteriorate their quality of life.

They can also face mental health challenges due to Dementia and Alzheimer’s. This natural process can also be quite lonely. And this often triggers the need to interact with the society to rejuvenate them. Your grandparents, aged aunties, or uncles can also face challenges when moving, cleaning, and eating. 

Thus, in the African community, the family is the primary caregiver of the old. This role is often a preserve for young women, from wives, daughters, and aunties to cousins. The dependency of the elder to the younger generation is related to an African adage: “Because you have taken care of me to grow teeth. I will take care of you until your teeth fall out” (Apt,1996; Scheil-Adlung, 2015).

It’s also a sign of love and respect for the old, which could also lead to blessings. When the immediate family isn’t available for the old person, some churches and communities care for the person. This is unlike the Western culture, where senior citizens are often institutionalized. 

Relocate to Rural Areas on Retirement

It’s a common culture for Africans in the modern age to build their retirement homes in rural areas. When they retire, they often relocate to farm life for what is referred to as a quiet life. 

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Aging in Africa Attracts Respect & Formal Names

Most Africans don’t call their old in Africa by name. Instead, the community has created titles that they use to denote respect. For example, in most African communities, Baba and Mama refer to elderly men and women, respectively. 

The titles used differ from commutes and their languages. In Nigeria, each tribe has a prefix that they add to the old person’s name. The Opobo and Ibani people use Ada and Aya for elderly men and women, respectively, while the Igbo use Dede for men and Dada for women. 

The formalities continue beyond the names. In most communities, the aged in Africa are greeted in specific ways to show respect. For example, in most East African countries, people remove their caps when greeting the old.

Provide Counsel 

Some people associate aging, especially among the respected, as being wise. As such, the old advice on solving conflicts like land, marriage, and sibling disputes. They are also entrusted to give sober advice.

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Their word is often final, even in cases where it may not be reasonable. This goes to show how much people respect their advice.

Keep the Community’s Traditions

Elderly people are often entrusted with passing down communities’ traditions and culture. This is often done through storytelling, especially to children. Sometimes, the practices can be passed down by performing rituals. 

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Viewing the Old Without Children as Witches

Aging in Africa isn’t always rosy. In some communities, members associate the elderly with witchcraft. This is especially true for childless women. 

Often, these old women are accused as the source of misfortune by their family members. In extreme cases, the old people are ostracized and killed.

Keeping the Elderly in Homes

While the primary form of caregiving is through informal societal arrangements, it’s crucial to note that some African societies are gradually adopting institutionalizing the aged. South Africa is such a country. 

Why is this happening?

Western culture has influenced how the young generation perceives old age and the aged.  Also, the population of the young in Africa is increasing rapidly. 

According to a report by the US Bureau on Aging in Africa, the older population is expected to triple from 74.4 million to 235.1 million between 2020 and 2050. Already, the current population of senior citizens is overwhelming. There’s not enough young generation to tend to the elderly.

Additionally, most women and young people have moved to cities to pursue their dreams. This makes it harder to care for their aged people. Factors such as poverty and insufficient resources may also influence you to take your elderly family members to an Assisted living institution.

Homes can guarantee proper care of your loved ones. While institutionalizing the old is a foreign concept, it’s okay, and sometimes it may be your only option.

While there are 54 African countries, each with its traditions and culture, some cultures are common. Africans generally respect the elderly, with only a few cases of witchcraft accusations. If you can uphold the tradition of caring for the old in your family, please do so and pass it down to the next generation.

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Beatrice Maina
Beatrice Maina
Beatrice Maina is a proficient writer and content manager who crafts high-quality, optimized articles that are helpful to readers. She listens to your brand voice and incorporates it into her writing. With a rich background in SEO writing and keyword research, she understands the need to write content that search engines and readers will love. Thus, she emphasizes the need for articles to meet readers' needs and are Google-friendly.


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