Aging In America: We Should Look Abroad For Elderly Care Examples
March 21, 2013

Elderly Care In The US Could Use Lessons From Abroad

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A professor at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) says that Americans could learn a thing or two about how to improve the quality of life for the elderly.

Aging expert M.C. Terry Hokenstad, PhD, social work professor in aging from the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at CWRU, calls his findings "lessons from abroad," based on comparison of the US system of health care for the aging and other nations.

He found that families in Norway receive public support that enables them to take care of aging parents in their own homes and keep them out of nursing homes. This money includes a salary for a son or daughter to provide care. In the Netherlands, patients receive a full, government-paid assessment of needs to help them live as independently as possible.

Stealing a few of the good ideas from other nations isn't exactly a new concept for the US. England's hospice care for end of life patients was adopted into the American health care system.

"My goal is to study what other countries are doing and suggest implications for the United States," says Hokenstad.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, by 2050, the number of people 60 and older will be at around 2 billion. This shift raises all kinds of issues about how we care for the aging.

“Surviving old age is not just about economics but quality of life. We need to accentuate the ways in which older people can contribute to this world," said Hokenstad, who is 76-years-old.

He said redefining retirement to include more opportunities for older people to remain in the workforce should be considered. Part of this idea includes flexible retirement plans and more incentives for older entrepreneurs to start businesses at home.

Hokenstad wrote in the spring issue of the Journal of American Society on Aging about the UN's upcoming task in taking care of the elderly. In his paper, entitled "The United Nations Plans for a Future Free of Ageism and Elder Invisibility," he discusses necessary human rights for older people, including provisions for care and programs that promote how older people can contribute to the world.

A study from the National Academies last year revealed some major policy changes that are needed in order to deal with the aging population in the US. Researchers from this study said they believe the increasing demographic shift to people over the age of 65 is not temporary and not related to only the baby boomer population.

“The bottom line is that the nation has many good options for responding to population aging,” said Roger Ferguson, a co-chair of the committee that completed last year's report. “Nonetheless, there is little doubt that there will need to be major changes in the structure of federal programs, particularly those for health. The transition to sustainable policies will be smoother and less costly if steps are taken sooner rather than later.”