Middle-income countries like Ecuador are in the process of demographic and epidemiological transitions, and their populations are aging. The challenges associated with providing services to growing numbers of citizens who experience the inevitable deterioration associated with aging are mirrored by the manner in which aging is perceived in a culturally heterogeneous society. This paper presents the results of qualitative research conducted among older men and women in indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian highlands in order to investigate the perceptions regarding the ability of family and community networks to provide adequate and appropriate support for older persons in the context of their perceptions of health, health care, and aging. The principal findings are that: (i) perceptions of aging are shaped by chronic illness, fatigue, deteriorating sensory capacities, and vulnerability to accidents; (ii) barriers to health care are exacerbated among aging members of indigenous communities, although in some cases they can be addressed through traditional alternatives; (iii) the sense of identity shifts as aging people are increasingly unable to work the land and participate in community activities; and (iv) family and community support networks for older adults are not as strong as is generally thought. These findings represent the context within which issues related aging in a culturally heterogeneous society can be best understood and addressed.
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