Across the world, the proportion of older people grows faster than any other age group. Life expectancy increases, reaching our country at the age of 80 or so, which means the global aging of the Spanish population.
The aging of the society can be considered on the one hand an advance and on the other, a great challenge, since it supposes a greater social and economic exigency. Most importantly, the real challenge of increasing life expectancy is the quality of life of the elderly, which will allow them to maintain their activity and independence: how to live the “extra” years and how to enjoy them.
Most people adapt to the changes that come with aging and are still independent even old. Up to 80% of people with 70 years of age maintain an acceptable physical and mental form that allows them to carry their daily life with full normality.
Despite this, society in general continues to relate old age and old people to illness, dependence and lack of productivity, often ignoring their experience and wisdom.
What is active aging?
The best definition is that adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO), which defines “active aging” as “the process by which opportunities for physical, social and mental well-being are optimized throughout life, with the objective To expand healthy life expectancy, productivity and quality of life in old age. ” This definition not only contemplates aging from health care, but incorporates all the factors of the social, economic and cultural areas that affect the aging of people.
Active aging should be considered a primary objective by both society and policy makers, seeking to improve the autonomy, health and productivity of older people.
What activities do older people do?
Surveys conducted to find out what time is spent by the elderly indicate that, in addition to time spent sleeping and taking care of health, about 12 hours a day, about 97% watch television, 71% listen to the radio and it does not arrive To 10% those who read frequently (this figure may affect the cultural level and visual problems of many older people).
70% usually walk and go shopping, up to 43% carry out some tourist activity after retirement and between 20% and 30% approximately, participate in some association, in cultural activities, attend craft courses or do sports . But what should be noted is that the percentage of older who would want to perform these activities, especially physical exercise, go for walks or shopping, go to recreational societies or read the newspaper, is even greater. Even up to 40% are interested in maintaining a job or transmitting their knowledge to younger people.
Regarding income, the people who worry most are those who live alone, without children or relatives, because the risk of reaching destitution is greater.
Special attention must also be paid to the elderly living in rural areas, since they are more isolated from the outset than those living in urban areas.
In the labor field, it is necessary to support the active and productive contribution of the elderly, both in paid and unpaid work (home, child care or other elderly) and in voluntary work (in schools, communities, public organizations , Museums and companies, private).
These activities maintain and increase their social contacts and their mental well-being, while making them feel comforted by their contribution to society. This area can also be supported by gradual or partial retirement programs.
With respect to social protection, the family continues to be the main support of the elderly. However, due to the current change in the family structure due to the decrease in the number of members and the incorporation of women into the world of work, greater public protection is needed to avoid loneliness and greater vulnerability.
The physical environment
That the physical environment takes into account the elderly can be decisive in the fact that these people are dependent or independent. For example, an older person is more likely to be physically and socially active if he can walk safely in well-lit parks and access local transportation with ease.
Older people living in unsafe or polluted areas are less likely to come home from home and are therefore more prone to isolation and depression, as well as worse physical condition and mobility problems.
With regard to housing, safe and adequate housing is especially important for the well-being of the elderly. The development of alternative housing schemes could be promoted, such as shared or supervised housing that favors individual and social development, while avoiding isolation.
Biology, genetics and adaptive capacity
Biology, genetics and adaptive capacity are three fundamental factors that determine how a person ages.
The changes that accompany aging progress gradually and individual differences are significant. For example, the physical performance of a 70-year-old person who stays in shape may be similar to that of a 30-year-old person who does not stay in shape.
During the aging process intellectual abilities such as reaction time, learning speed and memory naturally decrease. However, this can be offset by an increase in wisdom, knowledge and experience. It is more frequent that lack of practical activity, lack of motivation and confidence, isolation and depression, are cause of decreased cognitive performance than aging itself.
The influence of genetic factors on the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and certain cancers varies considerably from person to person. In general, not suffering from illness or disability in old age depends equally on inheritance, personal behavior, adaptation to daily life and the physical, social and economic environment. Older people who adapt well tend to have self-control and a positive attitude and are convinced to achieve their goals.
On behavioral factors, one of the myths about aging revolves around the idea that adopting a healthy lifestyle in old age is too late, but it is not. Adequate physical activity avoiding sedentary life, healthy eating, non-smoking, prudent consumption of alcohol and the correct use of medicines in old age, can avoid diseases and functional decline, can foster social relations, prolong the Longevity and improve the quality of life.
Factors of the social environment
With regard to factors of the social environment, it should be noted that the social support of relatives, friends, neighbors or volunteers, opportunities for education and lifelong learning (and especially nowadays, in the area of new technologies Information and communication) and protection against physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse are fundamental to improving health, independence and productivity in old age. Avoiding loneliness, social isolation, illiteracy and lack of education and abuse greatly diminishes the risks of disability and premature death in the elderly.
Key factors for active aging: what society should do for and for the elderly
To achieve a “culture of active aging” is necessary the interaction of factors of a sanitary, economic, physical, personal, behavioral and even social environment.
In order to promote active aging, public and private health and social systems should collaborate in health promotion and disease prevention by establishing nutritional and oral health education programs and exercise programs for the maintenance or recovery of mobility and strength.
These programs would prevent or reduce physical and mental disabilities in old age and thus achieve a balance between elderly self-care, support from “informal” caregivers and professional care. It should be noted that “informal” caregivers, mostly women, should be given special attention because of the high risk of them becoming ill by supporting them with training, temporary assistance and / or financial support.
Older people are more vulnerable than the rest of the population due to age, chronic diseases and disabilities. Therefore, the challenge that must be posed by our society is to maintain an active and healthy old age as far as possible and, above all, an acceptable quality of life.
In order to develop a positive aging, society must provide the greatest opportunities for them to be independent, to be in good health and to be productive. It is also important that they enjoy greater security and comfort, promoting well-being and creating more favorable and favorable environmental environments. We need to think more about empowering than about disability, considering the elderly as active participants and contributors to society.
It is important to detect as soon as possible the loss of autonomy and to establish the necessary measures for the elderly to maintain the greatest possible independence, including through telemedicine and telecare programs.
As important reasons to promote active aging we find a lower cost of health and medical services, an improvement in social interaction and better physical, mental and psychological health.
One of the measures that must be carried out is the approximation of the media to the elderly, which provides society with a positive image of active and healthy aging and disseminates and popularizes the term “active aging” through Of political debates, in public forums and in the same media. In addition, research in this field should be encouraged, involving older people as both advisors and researchers.