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Pieces of Eight


Mitchell Helps Costa Ricans

Jim Mitchell, an ECU sociologist and gerontologist, is helping Costa Rica brace for its aging population.

This spring, Mitchell coordinated an international conference at the Universidad Nacional do Costa Rica. The conference was the first in Costa Rica that addressed issues central to its aging population.

“There is no gerontology education and when I looked at the demographics, the country is going to rapidly age and they don’t have services or training,” he said.

Mitchell, director of ECU’s Center on Aging, observed that families tend to take in their aging and ill and serve as primary caregivers, but that there are few services to help these families get the best possible care. “The emphasis has been on maternal and children’s health care. Their situation is heavily dependent on family care; it’s a poor country, so if we limited options to formal resources and models, it wouldn’t work.”

The conference enabled discussion on raising awareness and visibility of the needs of the country’s aging population. Mitchell first became aware of this development when he accompanied ECU anthropologist John Bort to Costa Rica.

“There is very little in the way of complex geriatric medical or institutional care. They don’t have rest homes, have few nursing homes, and those that exist don’t separate Alzheimer’s patients,” he said. “The overall goal, over time, is to mobilize and train the trainers to determine their own needs and services. But it needs to be determined and implemented by them.”



This page originally appeared in the Oct. 14, 2005 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at