The challenge of sustainability
Europe is ageing. People aged 50+ represent already 37% of the population, i.e. 190 millions citizens. Eurostat population projections foresee that the number of people aged over 60 will increase by about two million persons per annum in the coming decades, while the working age population, as a result of lower fertility rates among post baby boom generations, will start to shrink. Thereby the number of very old persons, 80 years and older, who are most likely in need of care, will increase. At the same time fewer young people will be available to provide informal and formal support and care.
In terms of long-term care shortages of providing formal and informal care might cause challenges which need to be tackled. Therefore, today’s opportunity is to find sustainable solutions to close the gap between care demand and supply. In the European Commission staff working document on long-term care in ageing societies, prevention, rehabilitation, improvement of care delivery, supporting people to manage self-care and independent living are defined as the main areas to be invested in. Older people prefer to live as long as possible independently in their own homes and four key factors are pointed out to support independent living:
- Mutual support of people (relatives, neighbours and friends)
- Age friendliness of surroundings (removing obstacles, promoting the concept of Design-for-All and installing supportive devices when needed)
- Assistive aid and modern ICT (mobile app to measure and monitor blood pressure within the scope of telemonitoring or ICT devices for carers to deliver care more effectively)
- Access to formal and informal home help and home care
Overall, empowerment of people to live longer independently lowers the pressure put on family carers. It also limits the overstraining of formal care facilities.
On a European level the main task to be carried out is to enable and support member states to create sustainable and better integrated care systems. Since many member states have already positive experience with programmes supporting independent living with age-friendly environments, it is self-evident to develop strategies to better share knowledge and exchange good practice examples across Europe.
Why support age-friendly environments?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), physical and social environments are key determinants of whether people can remain healthy, independent and autonomous long into their old age. Therefore, WHO established in 2005 the Age-Friendly Cities program and guidelines to promote age-friendly environments.
“Creating Age-friendly Environments means adapting our everyday living environment to the needs of the ageing population in order to empower people to age in better physical and mental health, promote their social inclusion and active participation, support them maintain their autonomy and a good quality of life in their old age. They enable older workers to remain at work for longer, lower the pressure on traditional care and assistance and boost the economy through demand for innovative solutions” (AGE, 2012). Age friendly environments are one of the most effective approaches to respond to demographic change and to increase the healthy life year indicators.
On these grounds AGE’s vision is to tackle future challenges through supportive and age friendly environments for all and greater solidarity between generations. Therefore, a comprehensive approach of ageing is necessary. The best solution to face Europe’s demographic change is to empower older people to age in better health and to contribute more actively to the labour market and to their communities. This will help lower the pressure on public budgets and will enable our societies to better cope with demographic ageing in a way that is fair for all generations.
To connect its members’ vision with the WHO activities, AGE signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2008. AGE also supports the Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities, a programme which helps cities and communities to structure the development of AFE.
The collaboration between AGE and the WHO is one major step to push forward the promotion of AFE on European level.