The average life expectancy in Greece has now reached 77 for men and 81 for women, putting it among the top 10 countries in the world for longevity. Although heavy smokers, Greeks are actually in third place after the Swedes and Norwegians. Greek women do not live as long as Scandinavians, but they are on a par with women in Italy and the Netherlands. People over the age of 65 constitute 16.5-17 percent of the population, according to the 2001 census. This percentage would have been far higher if there had not been so many immigrant workers in the younger age brackets. By 2020, this percentage is expected to rise to 25 percent. The problem of Greece’s aging population is the subject of the Seventh Panhellenic Conference on Gerontology and Geriatrics, which started on Wednesday and ends today in Athens. According to Dr Merope Violaki-Paraskeva, president of the Greek Association for Gerontology and Geriatrics, a major problem for aged people is their isolation from their immediate family, chiefly because of changes in the way of life. As Violaki pointed out, aged people should remain with their families as much as possible so as not to feel pushed to the margins of life, a situation that often leads to depression. Psychiatrist Athanassios Mouyias said at the conference that around 45 percent of aged people suffer from depression, but only about 7 percent are being treated for it, as it often goes unnoticed by family and other carers. Even medical practitioners do not often suspect psychological factors as being the cause of high blood pressure or duodenal ulcers. Half of all those aged over 85 suffer from at least a mild deterioration of mental powers: 10 percent will develop Alzheimer’s disease. In Greece, there are 350,000 people aged over 85. Athanassios Dontas, who is director of the Athens Retirement Home as well as general secretary of the association, focused on the important problem of caring for elderly people who are no longer able to look after themselves. In recent years there has been a growing trend to employ immigrant women who claim to be trained nurses. This is often far from being true and often results in low-quality care. If these carers have a poor knowledge of Greek, it can have extremely adverse effects on the course of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Dr Ioannis Karaitianos, professor of surgery at Athens University, said that emergency operations on the elderly should be avoided as this type of surgery is accompanied by a higher mortality rate among the aged. In Greece, as in other European countries, he said, people over 70 years of age, although comprising only 10-12 percent of the population, account for over 25 percent of the health budget and occupy about half of all hospital beds, including 25 percent of beds set aside for emergency cases such as surgery and cardiology. An undersea quake measuring 4.6 on the Richter scale was reported south of the port of Argostoli on the Ionian island of Cephalonia just before 8 p.m. yesterday. No damage was reported.