The elderly: a public health priority

 January 7, 2014
By Javier Garcia

According to demographic estimates in Spain, in the year 2020, nearly 3.5 million elderly people will require help to carry out at least one basic daily activity. These figures represent a real challenge to the healthcare system; not only given the elevated costs they imply but, above all, because of the material and human resources that will need to be mobilized.

However, beyond numbers and calculations, the dependency situation is primarily a concern for people; a cause for suffering among those affected and their relatives, as well as a decline in their quality of life, with all the consequences for mental health this may bring. Therefore, elderly people at risk should be an absolute and immediate priority for the healthcare system, since there is a clear relationship between increasing age and disability: 32% of those over the age of 65 have some form of disability, whilst the percentage does not surpass 5% for those below this age.

Prevention is one of the most effective ways to alleviate this impending future. Not only can dependency prevention reduce the number of dependent persons in the future (or, at least, increase the length of independent living), but it also has a direct positive impact on quality of life, sense of well-being and a person’s state of mind.

Whilst such prevention programmes always focus on people at risk, they should also take into account a person’s wider circle of friends and family. In a country where, traditionally, the elderly have always been cared for by the family, intervention with relatives becomes fundamental. Moreover, just as important is working with professionals at nursing homes, hospitals and day-care centres.

In a scenario in which resources are limited, it becomes necessary to find efficient alternatives, such as the use of new technologies. These can be exploited by both patients and their relatives or professional carers, in order to promote healthy aging, which constitutes a guarantee of well-being in the future.