Saturday, 5 July 2014

Will healthy ageing become a reality?

In the EU by 2025 more than 20% of Europeans will be 65 or over, with a particularly rapid increase in the number of over 80s. A major challenge for European governments is how to meet the higher demand for healthcare and ensure that healthcare systems meet the needs of the elderly.

The elderly have markedly different healthcare requirements to younger age groups but, at present, many services are not ideally tailored to suit their needs. For example, it has long been known that the elderly use a greater amount of medicines than younger patients. In a survey by the US National Center for HealthStatistics it was reported that 80% of the elderly population (adults aged 65 years and older) took at least one prescription drug in the prior month. The issue of polypharmacy is a particular concern in the elderly, who compared to younger individuals, tend to have more disease conditions for which medicines are required.

The European Commission’s (EC) official position is to actively support Member States in their efforts to promote healthy ageing through dedicated initiatives to improve the health of older people. There is a belief that an ageing population in good health will also mean less strain on health systems and fewer people retiring from work due to ill-health. At present, the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing aims to ensure that the average European citizen has two more active and healthy years to live by 2020. The EC takes the view that ageing is an opportunity for Europe rather than a hindrance. However, Europe’s continuing economic crisis is creating uncertainty regarding the plans to improve healthcare for the elderly as governments are reluctant to invest in new areas. The experience in Greece serves as awarning of what can happen in the face of economic problems. As a result of the economic meltdown, doctors' wages in the public system have been cut in line with other government workers, and hospitals are at risk of being merged and face regular shortages of materials.

The ongoing economic difficulties in Europe may hinder investment in additional healthcare services for the elderly since politicians are looking to implement cutbacks. However, it must be remembered that the elderly also represent a growingproportion of the voting population and will therefore not accept their long-term healthcare needs being ignored.

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