A World of Aging

It’s a global trend: The birth rate is down, seniors are living longer, and adult children are moving to where the jobs are. These developments are spurring big changes in the way families and nations care for their elders.

Indian senior man and woman

The Caring Right at Home newsletter has frequently reported on the growing number of older adults in the United States. Today, 13 percent of us are age 65 and older, and as we noted last month, that percentage will increase to 20 percent within a decade or so.

In other parts of the world, most notably Europe and Asia, the percentage is already higher, and growing fast. Japan leads the longevity list, with 26.7 percent of the population older than 65. China and several European nations are close behind.

Medical advances have both lengthened the life of humans and allowed them to control the size of their families. At the same time, more young people are moving from traditional villages to urban centers. So most cultures today have many more older adults, but substantially fewer family members to care for them.

This generational imbalance is expected to even out over time — but meanwhile, the elder care capacity of many countries is stretched thin. We read sad stories about seniors in Japan who commit petty crimes in order to be sent to prison, which they find preferable to living alone. In South Korea, there's an ugly streak of ageism as young people regularly trash older adults on chat boards. In the U.K., Prime Minister Theresa May recently appointed a Minister for Loneliness to address an epidemic of social isolation among older adults. And a news story went viral last month about a lonely Chinese elder who put himself up for adoption.

China is an interesting and extreme case. Thirty years of the one-child policy put a big strain on the traditional idea of "filial piety," the duty of young people to honor and care for elders. Seniors now make up 20 percent of the Chinese population, and another 10 million are turning 65 each year. Elders once relied on dutiful daughters-in-law for care, but now many young people have moved to the city, and young women have different priorities.

So today nontraditional care models such as nursing homes and professional home care are expanding in China and other countries. And from around the world, affirming stories show that governments, private companies and older adults themselves are coming up with creative strategies to keep seniors active and engaged. Here are some great examples:

  • In April, The Guardian reported on the Elderly Games that were held in northern Thailand. Check out these inspirational photos! Close to 25 percent of the population of Thailand soon will be older than 65, according to experts, and keeping them physically active is a priority.
  • Also in Thailand, as reported by Euronews, seniors are going back to school, even wearing uniforms to remind them of "the good old days."
  • Always pioneers of electronics, companies in Japan are developing robotic technologies to help keep seniors independent. Reuters recently reported on some of these products. You can see more video here.
  • The BBC reports on a shopping district in Japan featuring more than 200 shops geared toward older adults — as well as a senior-friendly temple. 
  • In India, seniors can hire young people to perform tasks that young family members once did — "renting grandkids for company," Quartz calls it. 
  • Sports groups in England are adapting their activities for older adults, reports The Telegraph. Modified volleyball, weightlifting and orienteering not only keep seniors fit, but also provide an opportunity for socialization.
  • A startup business in Germany combines the love of homemade goodies with the abilities of older adults who wish to continue working beyond the traditional retirement age. The Local – Germany reports that consumers can purchase cakes just like Oma used to make — and is still making!
  • Business Insider reports on a dementia-friendly memory care facility in the Netherlands, a secure "village" — complete with shops, gardens and even a pub — where residents can move freely and experience autonomy in a nonjudgmental environment. This model also is being adopted by communities in the U.S. and Canada.
  • In South Korea, seniors are giving new meaning to the song "Staying Alive," spending their days in "colatecs" — daytime discos for the elderly. The Christian Science Monitor reports that these senior dancers enjoy getting out of the house to exercise and socialize.
  • The Telegraph reports that thousands of senior volunteers in China have been recruited for security patrols, spending their retirement years in groups such as the "Xicheng Aunties" and the "Yongshan Persuaders."
  • In Ethiopia, reports The Christian Science Monitor, a traditional type of life insurance network is undergoing a makeover to support the well-being of older adults.
  • Check out these senior figure skaters from Hungary. Reuters says that ice dancing is a good way to improve balance.

Demographers say that the care of older adults is one of the most pressing challenges in the world today. These examples confirm that the desire to age well and care for our loved ones is truly universal.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.