Around the globe, the human population is aging. How are different countries responding to the needs of older people? What services, strategies, and systems are being used to reduce loneliness, increase intergenerational contact, and provide housing for elders?
Let’s look at the unique ways people are caring for seniors around the world.
The Netherlands provides state pensions for anyone who has worked in the Netherlands between ages 15-65. Many Dutch retirees are making nearly as much as they did while working, a surefire way to promote active participation in society.
In terms of living situations, the Dutch are very innovative. One inspiring program is designed to reduce loneliness in nursing homes.
In select nursing homes, university students have the option of living in rent-free flats. This arrangement increases intergenerational contact, decreases feelings of loneliness for elders, and boosts social interaction with seniors. These rent-free flats help build a sense of neighborliness, building a strong social fabric.
Switzerland has created cross-generational residential communities.
An example is Giesserei in Winterthur, where 300 people live in 155 apartments. Inhabitants range from infants to senior citizens. This close contact encourages friendships and interactions across all generations. Tenants share several guest rooms and a bar with it’s own library. There is an inner courtyard for informal gathering, as well as common rooms and workshops.
The Swiss have also created urban dwellings such as Zentrum Basserdorf—an intergenerational housing solution with care options. Senior citizens who want to grow old in their own apartment are able to do so, with access to services such as cleaning, shopping, and care services.
In the U.K., staggered levels of care are provided to help seniors manage their evolving needs. For example, home care is available to help seniors with personal care tasks.
In some parts of the U.K., this care is provided for free. In Northern Ireland, home care is free for people over 75. In Scotland, free personal care is available for those needing help with preparing meals, dressing, and washing.
In the U.K., staggered care is offered in a tiered approach. First home care services; then assisted living, and then residential care. Care is not entirely free in all areas, yet some people can get help towards the costs.
One of the advantages of this system is that people get comfortable accepting care. While in their homes, trained caregivers assist with everyday tasks. This reduces day-to-day struggles while enabling seniors to live independently. In assisted living facilities, seniors can increase social contact and get additional assistance. Environments are upgraded for safety features such as grab bars and non-stick flooring. Residential facilities help people when they need 24-hour care.
In Norway, seniors are encouraged to find ways to re-gain their abilities after a set back. The Re-ablement approach includes an inter-professional team of occupational therapists, social workers, physical therapists and nurses. The team works with individuals to help them achieve health goals. With personal attention, strategic planning and a common goal, Norway is seeing a decrease in spending on health care—and an increase in health.
How inspiring to have a team of experts ready to help you achieve your self-care and health goals.
In Belgium, the general aim is to help people stay comfortably in their own homes. Informal care is generally offered from families. However, this has not stopped Belgium from inventing some fresh alternatives.
One trend is service flats. Service flats provide a place where seniors can live in their own space, yet have facilities for home help and cooked meals, if needed. Belgium also offers short stay centers and day care. These can provide an enriching alternative for seniors, while also offering families 'a time-off' from care giving.
Additionally, Belgium has created a ‘Kangaroo housing’ initiative. This is a unique program where older people live together with immigrant families. People live in the same house, on separate floors. The program, launched over 35 years ago, has proved mutually beneficial: seniors can rely on the families for help if needed, and families improve their sense of belonging to the community.
Germany has an aging population, predicted to reach more than 23 million people over 65 by 2035. At the same time, Germany has become home to 1.2 million asylum seekers. The response? The creation of a unique program, training refugees to provide care for elderly.
Recent surveys highlight that 82% of Germans do not want to grow old in a nursing home. In 2013, grants were introduced allowing elderly to live in a community apartment. This arrangement encourages cohabitating and socializing, aimed to prevent isolation and loneliness.
Germany also fosters multigenerational contact. Often community centers are a place for elders to gather, and for young families to drop in for socializing and support. Children and elders alike enjoy the contact through singing, storytelling, and connecting with playing games.
Japan is experiencing tremendous growth in the number of seniors. By 2040, 38% of the population will be over 65 years old.
In response, in 1995 Japan started a special social currency known as Fureai Kippu, meaning “Caring Relationship Tickets.” The currency unit is one hour of volunteer service to an elderly.
The currency can be used by seniors to help others seniors; and by family to help someone else’s parents or elders. It is possible to bank the currency, as well as transfer it, enabling families to help their aging parents or grandparents. This keeps the interactions close to the heart, and provides a way to indirectly and directly care for family elders.
Interestingly, experts note that many seniors prefer to be paid in Fureai Kippu currency. This form of exchange feels more personal, compassionate, and community-based. Nearly 400 organizations and non-profits throughout Japan use this innovative currency.
China also implemented the Fureai Kippu concept, starting in 2005. It is widely embraced in China, and now one of the largest programs for social currency in the world.
China has over 62,000 universities and schools for the elderly. By the end of 2018, over 8 million students attended physical classes and more than 5 million participate in distance learning. One university is The University of the Aged is located in Rudong China. The environment provides a lively place to learn, cultivate new skills, and develop a sense of meaning.
Many of the teachers are also seniors, sharing skills they’ve developed over a lifetime. Classes are offered in a wide range of topics such as practical skills, literature, mental health, calligraphy, dance and painting. Students pay a nominal fee, with the Chinese government subsidizing the lion’s share of the cost.
The Big Idea: Bright ideas are popping up around the world.
We can learn from the creative approaches to help seniors improve quality of life. With inspiration coming from different countries, we can use these as triggers to improve the senior experience in the United States.
As you’ve been reading, no doubt, you’ve had some insights. What inspires you? Many of these ideas revolve around core issues such as: promoting learning, enhancing intergenerational contact, creating innovative housing solutions, and fostering volunteerism. Perhaps you can translate these ideas into an innovative solution in your commuity.