“The world is aging at an unprecedented pace. In the coming decades, large and small, industrialized and developing countries alike, with few exceptions, will experience a rapid growth in the proportion of their populations age 65 or older, driven by longer lifespans and declining birth rates. With this looming demographic transformation, a healthier, more productive, and more engaged older population is essential to building a prosperous and sustainable future. As such, a rethinking of the role of older adults in our communities and economies is imperative.”
Wow. That’s a mouthful and something to ponder.
It comes from the first paragraph of the Executive Summary of a new report from the AARP called The Aging Readiness and Competitiveness (ARC) Report. Partnering with FP Analytics, the AARP conducted “an in-depth study of aging policy in 12 countries.” The ARC Report presents an overview of how these countries are doing in terms of the health, engagement, and economic productivity of their elder populations. One thing they discovered is not news to us; and that is, most people around the world want to age at home.
Each country is unique and is developing their own distinct approaches as they respond to the challenges and benefits a growing older population brings, whether that reality has already set in or it looms in the future. Reading through the report, a number of innovative and interesting programs jumped out that we in the U.S. could learn from.
Since 2015, Canadians age 65 and older have outnumbered those younger than 15. In response, there is an emphasis on building a strong community social infrastructure. Age-friendly communities are promoted and funds are provided for community-based projects. The New Horizons for Seniors Program is “the main platform used by the Canadian federal government to fund local projects to help older adults benefit from and contribute to, the quality of life in their communities.” Projects tend to focus on social participation and inclusion, promoting volunteerism, and preventing elder abuse. One example is the Welcoming Seniors’ Space, begun by a neighborhood group in Vancouver in 2016. “The program aims to build senior sites in eight linguistically diverse neighborhoods in the city targeting those who are age 75 and older and facing language or cultural barriers. Volunteers communicate with older adults in their mother language, helping to connect them to appropriate services and organize social events to promote social engagement.”
Germany is a “super-aged” society with a population of those over 65 projected to reach “nearly one-third of the total population by 2050.” At the same time, the population ages 15 through 64 will shrink by 23 percent. This raises the question: who will care for the aged population? As a necessity, Germany now requires Long-Term Care insurance and is working to strengthen home-based care. “As of 2014, more than twice as many older adults received long-term care at home as within institutions. From 2000 through 2014, as the need for LTC continued to grow, home care met 83 percent of new demand.”
Japan is another “super-aged” society with one in four Japanese aged 65 or older. By 2050 Japan is projected to be the world’s most aged country. Today 6.25 million Japanese aged 65 and older are living alone and nearly half of them are worried about dying alone. An innovative response is “Watchover Service,” which uses Japan Post Group, a government owned company operating 24,000 post offices with a workforce of 400,000, to provide support services that, for a fee, will monitor the health and well-being of seniors and report back to their family members. In 2015 Japan Post “collaborated with IBM and Apple to provide older subscribers with free iPads loaded with IBM-developed apps, which help to connect older people with services, healthcare, community and their families.” During postal employees’ home visits they help subscribers deal with set-up and other technical issues. Watchover Service aims to reach four to five million seniors in Japan by 2020.
It’s worrisome and distressing, but not really surprising to read in the ARC Report that “millions of older Americans suffer from persistent loneliness – 32 percent of people ages 60 through 69 and 25 percent of those age 70 and older reportedly feel lonely.” There are many more challenges detailed in the United States Report, most of which we are familiar with including:
- Federal and State government support not keeping pace with the needs of our growing aging population.
- More people age 65 and older wanting to stay in or return to the work force both because of desire and because of a need for economic security. “However, age discrimination and a lack of familiarity with new technology… remain barriers to employment.”
- “U.S. per capita health care spending is the highest in the world, more than twice the average of other developed countries. Yet, Americans have lower life expectancies and higher rates of chronic illnesses than our counterparts.
- “Given the high cost and growing healthcare demand, there remains an acute need for improved health care coverage.
However, on the plus side, the U.S. is doing some things right according to the ARC Report.
- “Between 2000 and 2015, the percentage of people age 65 and older who use the Internet more than quadrupled. As a result, the difference in the Internet-penetration rate between people age 65 and older and those aged 18 and older shrank by nearly one-third.”
- “Senior centers and social service agencies are integrating programs and classes designed to enhance older adults’ digital competency and fluency. In some select cases, centers are exclusively dedicated to facilitating older adults’ digital technology adoption.”
Depending on the country, the ARC Report ranges from positive and hopeful to grim. It’s a sober read.