Thanks to the economic and social progress we have made, life expectancy has increased. However, ageing often comes with health issues and restricted mobility – a challenge not only for the elderly and their families but also for society
Unfortunately, these issues connected with socio-demographic ageing in Europe have not yet had the attention they deserve. This also means that we are not yet aware of the major opportunities that decent care for our elderly can provide for economic development, employment and innovation in Europe.
Dignified ageing should be recognised as a fundamental human right
It is our duty and obligation to promote equal access to high-quality care and services. We must find the right ethical, political, economic and social responses. Technology can help us cope with this challenge, provided that any ethical issues are sufficiently taken into account.
Anticipating the needs of elderly people
As a first step, the needs of our older people need to be anticipated. To this end, we need appropriate statistical data. Demographic ageing should be measured in a dynamic and fine-tuned way, to include looking at variables, such as gender, healthy life expectancy and environmental epidemiology and dynamic indicators. A team of experts – demographers, sociologists, doctors – could set these variables up. We also suggest that national and regional ageing observatories should be established and that assessment tools should be put in place in Europe to observe and compare Member State policies and, thus, enable best practice to be replicated.
Creativity in the housing sector with high-tech devices
Providing accommodation for the elderly is a complex and sensitive issue. Grouping elderly people together in one place does not offer any cognitive advantages. Scientific studies have already demonstrated the negative relationship between the mental and physical health of older people. In addition, taking over older people’s care completely significantly increases their risk of becoming withdrawn and less resilient.
Since most elderly people want to remain in a familiar environment, appropriate housing is an important issue and, in our view, the choice can no longer be between live-in care and residential care homes.
Alternatives already exist, but we need more creativity and more investment in alternative housing, including the better use of digital technology innovation. The development of new homes should be based on the profiles and pathologies of older people, using high-tech equipment, yet we should also consider the social aspects by locating homes in developed parts of towns and in neighbourhoods that are not solely occupied by elderly people.
Telemedicine, sensors, a digital clinical card and digital medical records, as well as home automation technologies, would not only enhance older people’s independence but would also make care more efficient and secure.
The European Union (EU) should take up the idea of age-friendly cities – as promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) – and create a programme that supports pilot projects in different European cities or semi-rural areas. The aim of age-friendly cities is to optimise the health, integration and safety of older people.
Building and urban policies should also become more dynamic and flexible. Innovative housing schemes should be better promoted and supported by a specific funding programme under the European
Harmonising education and facilitating access to training
Caregivers play a crucial role in decent ageing, but this is not yet reflected in their social status and remuneration. Care and services for the elderly is also a sector of the job industry, which offers a large number of employment opportunities.
The level of education of carers is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of elderly people. Issues such as nutrition, accidents at home, violence towards the elderly and towards professionals, the use of digital technology at home, end-of-life care, etc. should be incorporated into specific programmes that are funded by the European Structural Funds and the European Social Fund.
We advocate for a harmonised legal framework for personal services, including streamlining training for carers all over Europe. Access and training methods must be made simpler, for instance, by providing ICT tools that allow access to theory and information and creating communities and online platforms. This will facilitate the exchange of best practices.
Solid financial platform
The EU and its Member States must encourage investment in improving the lives of older people, including in research and development. We propose a financial round table, bringing together the main stakeholders from both investors and care providers to discuss needs and possible financing options.
With this in mind, we encourage the Commission to conduct a study on the socio-economic outlook of care for our elderly. This study should also consider different forms of public and private funding, propose investment mechanisms based on public-private partnerships and put forward various recommendations at both supranational and Member State levels.
The needs of elderly people and the experiences of caregivers must come together to form the solutions of the future, supported by a sustainable financial system.
Member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)
Delegate of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI) at the EESC
European Economic and Social Committee
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