We are living longer and longer, that is a fact. But are we getting the old age we deserve? For the elderly to be guaranteed well-being, not only must the system pay their pensions, but society must also take them into account. The ageing population is a concern for the economy - How will the pensions of the future be paid? How will health and social care demands be met? - but at the same time it can be seen as an opportunity, an incentive for creating new types of jobs or for research and innovation.
Catalonia has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. According to the most current data, taken from 2016, the figure is 86 years for women and 81 for men.
The average life expectancy, therefore, is 83.63, behind only Hong Kong (85), Japan, Macau and Switzerland (with 84). This increase in life expectancy in recent decades has accelerated the population as a whole: in 1981, the population aged 65 and over made up 11.2% of the total, whereas by January 2019 it was already 18.8%. And in the next decade it is projected to reach 22%.
Elderly and healthy
However, although these data are very positive, when analysing the indicator of good health life expectancy, the Catalan population falls from the leading positions, with ages dropping to 69 for women and 67 for men. In other words, Catalan women live an average of 17 years with poor health and men 13. The conclusion is clear: one challenge for the future is for older people to be in better health. But not only that, they also need to achieve better social conditions, not only with secured pensions, but also with greater social visibility and the possibility of continuing to contribute their expertise to society.
“We elderly people know that we have neither the place nor the visibility we should have in the society we have helped to build. Once our working life is over, we melt into the background and remain invisible. The experience and work of generations that have undergone major social, economic and political changes in our country are not taken advantage of. When we reach retirement, our living conditions and quality of life are spoiled by the speculating economic powers and (often) the political application of parties that obey them.” This was the conclusion of participants in the 8th National Congress of the Elderly, held last October in Sant Fruitós de Bages.
One of the aims of the elderly is the creation of a specific body, ministry or agency that develops comprehensive policies for them and addresses the situations that most concern them, from pensions and health care to more individual topics, such as loneliness, social and political participation, respect for intimacy, affectivity and sexuality, and intergenerational solidarity.
One issue that will undoubtedly be addressed in the future is fostering intergenerational contact. “Old age is an issue that is not assimilated by young people, who are hooked on a world of technology and media that favour an image of eternal youth,” said representatives at the Congress. And ignorance arises because in many cases the elderly no longer live with their families. “It’s difficult for young people to come to terms with older people having difficulties understanding, loss of hearing, mobility, balance. Being close to those who suffer helps to generate intergenerational empathy, which we lack right now,” they add.
Apart from programs to bring young people and the elderly together, future policies should also encourage a proper transition from working life to retirement and enable those who quit work to continue to collaborate and participate in society. One example is volunteering for the elderly, which will become more relevant in the coming years.