Aging populations are a social issue not a health issue.

 In Health, Intentions
happy grandmother

The demographics of the world are shifting, perhaps more dramatically than they have done at any other point in human history. A combination of increased longevity and a decrease in fertility rates in many countries will mean that by the middle of this century, approximately 1/3 of the global population will be considered “elderly”.

This change in demographics will have a major impact in countries all over the world, and will be particularly challenging for developing countries already struggling to take care of their people under present circumstances. Much of the media in recent decades has tended to present this demographic shift as a medical problem and articles are written about the need for the health care community to step up and begin to take better care of the elderly.

However, the fact remains that this change is not, strictly speaking, a health care issue but a social challenge that requires sustainable social response. And this response must come not just from the health care community but from all of society. The current “solution” of farming seniors out to nursing homes and generally forgetting about them once they are there is no solution at all, nor is it sustainable as the elder population increases.

So what are some sustainable solutions that society can implement to help meet this challenge? Some suggestions are below.

  • Support the independence of the elderly in their own homes by ensuring safe and adequate housing, reliable transportation, and accessible health care.
  • Encourage seniors in their work life so that they can remain productive longer and make sure workplace policy support these goals.
  • Work at the intersection of the private and public sectors to ensure adequate retirement income when retirement does become necessary.
  • Develop a cadre of competent and adequately paid caregivers who can assist seniors to help keep them in their own homes.
  • Support families who have chosen to bring their elder to live with them by giving respite care, paying family members to take care of their loved ones and generally supporting the family emotionally as well as financially.
  • Change social attitudes to seeing ageing as a natural process, not merely as the end of life.
  • Change attitudes to see multigenerational households as a norm.

The fact is that aging effects every aspect of society and all of us need to be involved to make sure that meeting the challenges of this demographic shift does not fall solely to the lot of the medical community or that further institutionalization of the elderly continues to be promoted as a “solution” to the “problem” of old people. This is not humane nor is it sustainable nor even practical. Instead, a holistic, multi-faceted approach to reduce the vulnerability of this population and keep them as productive and included members of society is really the only way to meet this substantial social challenge.

by The Great Gathering
Copyright The Great Gathering 2014©

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