Feature Story

Old age as a new stage in life: Promoting active ageing in Georgia

29 September 2017
Georgian reproductologist Jenaro Kristesashvili
Reproductologist Jenaro Kristesashvili. Photo: Dina Oganova / UNFPA Georgia

TBILISI, Georgia — “People are surprised that I’m still so active. But I don’t consider myself to be elderly,” says Jenaro Kristesashvili, age 77, a reproductologist in Tbilisi, Georgia. “I never refuse whenever I’m offered to do something. I’m so active that many young people can’t compete with me.”

Kristesashvili is a prime example of the phenomenon of “active ageing”, or maintaining health and well-being into old age. But improving the quality of life of older persons isn’t just about individual attitudes and life philosophies. It also requires improvements to their social, political and economic status within society.

“Active ageing is a policy approach that supports growing older in good health and as a full member of society, while feeling more fulfilled at jobs and in social engagements, more independent in daily life and more engaged as citizens,” says Lela Bakradze, Assistant Representative at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Georgia Country Office.

UNFPA Georgia has been helping the Georgian government establish active-ageing policies, collaborating with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on guidelines that were incorporated into the State Policy to Address Ageing. The policy was adopted by the Georgian Parliament in May 2016.

"The Georgian State Policy encompasses all main priorities as outlined in the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing to respond to the opportunities and challenges of population ageing in the 21st century and to promote the development of a society for all ages,” says UNFPA’s Bakradze. She adds that more still needs to be done in terms of enacting pension reforms that equitably benefit women, and in creating opportunities for lifelong learning.

Currently, 14 per cent of Georgia’s population is 65 years of age or older, a number that is expected to rise to 20.6 per cent by 2035, according to United Nations Population Division (UNPD) projections. Statistical data also shows that more than 40 per cent of older Georgians are still economically active, especially in rural areas of the country, where most are self-employed, often as subsistence farmers. Such figures show both the opportunity that exists to increase the employability of older workers — such as by offering professional training, lifelong education and adapted working conditions — and the need to improve their financial security through measures such as pension reform and incentives to encourage individual savings.

To successfully tackle the issue of ageing in the 21st century, state policies must be applied at the national, local and community level, and should include measures that improve health and well-being into old age; ensure enabling and supportive physical and psychosocial environments; and change the way society perceives, interacts with and cares for its older citizens. A large body of research has shown that negative attitudes towards old age adversely affect a person’s health and hasten the physical process of ageing.

This year’s marking of International Day of Older Persons on 1 October is dedicated to enabling and expanding the contributions of older people in their families, communities and societies at large — showing that age isn’t something that inevitably comes with hindrances and growing weakness. For active older citizens like these men and women in Georgia, the passage of time instead brings fresh opportunities for developing and discovering new interests, and for observing life.

 

Jenaro Kristesashvili, age 77

Reproductologist

“Nobody was a doctor in my family. I initially wanted to be a musician, but then I thought, it’s better to be the best in a specific realm than be an average musician. Thus, I found myself in medicine.

“Reproductology is a complex specialty that includes gynaecology, endocrinology, genetics, immunology and some surgery. I am a professor at the Obstetrics–Gynaecology Department of the Faculty of Medicine at the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University and I supervise doctoral students as well. I have also worked as a consultant for UNFPA on adolescent sexual and reproductive health and education.

“I never run out of things to do. I travel frequently and attend various conferences—I’m invited everywhere. The most important thing I say to young people is, ‘You must become needed.’

“I’m a positive person. I don’t complain. I love my interactions with young people. Being alone is probably really difficult, but I live with my son and daughter-in-law and I work, thus I’ve never felt alone.”

 

Ambassador Gela Charkviani with his granddaughter. Photo: Dina Oganova / UNFPA Georgia

Gela Charkviani, age 78

Diplomat, writer, musician and grandfather

“I don’t believe that you receive inspiration from someone or something; if you want to do something, you must work and the inspiration comes on its own. Clearly, this changes with age. A person has more motivation to work when they’re younger as the ambition, the desire for recognition and the group of people whose feedback and ideas are important or interesting to you is greater.

“At my age, this group has got smaller because the majority of them have passed away.  There are fewer people for whom I would like to strive or do something, therefore, there is less motivation. Yet in some ways, I’ve done far more in recent years. I’ve published five books in the past five years — three of them bestsellers.

“After my son Irakli, and then my beloved wife Nana passed away, it was really difficult to survive in solitude. That is why I worked every day; it was an alternative to committing suicide. I wrote music, then I began writing books. After my son died, I also moved to London to become Georgia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom. I had to face a new environment, new challenges, new people and important work to do.

“I took in my granddaughter later on, when she turned five. In London, I used to always take her to school and bring her home myself, despite the fact that I could have sent her off with a driver instead. She had been orphaned and I wanted her to feel that she had me besides her as a father figure.”

 

Botanist Lamara Asieshvili. Photo: Dina Oganova / UNFPA Georgia

Lamara Asieshvili, age 81

Botanist at the Tbilisi Botanical Garden

“I’ve been working at the Tbilisi Botanical Garden since 1956. My department works on rare plants from Georgia and around the Caucasus, researching their ecology and biology. Saving rare and endangered plants from extinction is a worldwide problem. We learn how to cultivate and save a species and then we inform everyone about what we’ve learned. University and secondary-school students, and foreign guests are all impressed seeing the sort of plants here that are rare even in the wild.

“You have to nurture a plant. The botanical garden is located at 450 meters above sea level, but some of these plants have been taken from alpine zone and may have difficulty adapting to different climate conditions. We must study the ecology of each species, or as they say, ‘the plant’s language’.

“When a doctor enters a ward, he asks: ‘How is my patient today? Has her condition improved or not?’ My work is similar: We observe more than 700 plants annually, a majority of which have been entered in the Red Book of rare or endangered species. My everyday task involves the phenology of my plant collection — numbering them, daily observations, watching them all throughout the season, protecting and cultivating them. Has vegetative growth started? Are they blooming? At what stage is the seed-bearing period? Have the seeds ripened?

“This entire cycle of events takes place beginning from early spring and ending in the beginning of winter, with no stop in between. There is a high demand for the collected seeds of the Caucasian and Georgian endemic varieties, which we send to various botanical gardens and scientific institutions worldwide.”

 

Ice cream entrepreneur Dare Ekvtimishvili. Photo: Dina Oganova / UNFPA Georgia

Dare Ekvtimishvili, age 64

Product manager at the Luca Polare chain of ice cream and coffee shops

“I’m an engineer and chemist by profession. Previously, I taught chemistry at a technical college and worked at a chemistry laboratory. Starting this business in 2008 wasn’t easy, but my children and my son-in-law helped me. We wanted to have a family business and at the same time do something different. We studied the market, developed some Italian recipes and then made our first ice cream — a humble assortment in the beginning, now a myriad of colours.

“I did a number of things simultaneously: making the ice cream, delivering products, managing the warehouse, hiring employees. Even now we have to work a lot. I get up early and go to bed late. It’s a great relief to have slept for five hours. But I like all of this. I can’t imagine how I could stop.

“I once overheard some young people on a bus praising our ice cream shop. It makes me happy to feel like I give other people happiness. If I wasn’t in this business, I would probably work with children, perhaps at a boarding school. I want adolescents to have an environment where they have freedom and feel beloved.

“Age offers many positive things, especially in our culture. There are prohibitions and taboos in young age, and boundaries are created for you. When you mature, you become more independent, you are ready to take some bold steps.”

The original version of this article was written by Eka Chitanava and Tsira Gvasalia, with photographs by Dina Oganova, and published in Indigo Magazine’s September 2017 issue. It was prepared with the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Georgia Country Office.