The impact of issues arising from aging populations in countries around the globe, combined with declining numbers of caregivers and insufficient government support for services older adults need to live with dignity and respect, demands urgent attention.
That’s the stark warning in a report from the Global Ageing Network (GAN), an international network of leaders in ageing services, housing, research, technology and design from more than 60 countries.
Action by governments all over the world is needed now, say the report authors, all experts in long term care. The demographics of global aging are driving a need for attention to and prioritisation of policies, programs, and infrastructure to ensure access to care and services. Issues including approach to care, funding, workforce development and training, need to be addressed.
In GAN’s Call to Governments: Ageing and Long-Term Care, authors Jiri Horecky, president of the Association of Social Services, in the Czech Republic, and board chair, GAN; Stuart Kaplan, CEO, Selfhelp Community Services in New York, NY; Dan Levitt, professor and CEO, KinVillage, Delta, British Columbia, Canada; Katie Smith Sloan, executive director, Global Ageing Network; Megan Davies, PhD, University of Basel and Maastricht University; Dr. Freek Lapre, professor, TIAS Business School, Tilburg University, Netherlands; and Donald Macaskill, PhD, CEO, Scottish Care, lay out shared challenges and opportunities facing countries around the globe as populations grow older and people live longer, with at least half of all older adults expected to need of some long-term care services for a period at some point in their lives.
“It’s time to step up. Although the starting point is different for each country, every leader around the globe must address the issue of ensuring that older adults can access the care and services needed to age well,” said Katie Smith Sloan, Executive Director, GAN. “The numbers tell the story: By 2050, one in six people in the world are projected to be age 65 or older. We’ve laid out the issues that must be addressed, the needs of older adults that must be met, and offers a road map of high-level policy actions to consider.”
The impact of COVID-19 on older adults around the globe, and abundant lessons that became apparent from that experience, such as the negative effects of longstanding neglect of infrastructure needed to serve older adults as they age, served as the impetus for GAN’s action, Sloan explains. “Chronic underfunding, understaffing, low prioritization of aging services by governments around the globe revealed how urgently the long-term care sector does need attention, reforms, changes, and support. The sector’s been overlooked and underappreciated – and the collective work of GAN members is needed, now more than ever.”
“As the aging population grows, there are too many challenges to keep doing things the way we have been doing them in the past decades. Informal family caregivers, who, in every country worldwide play a fundamental role in ensuring older adults’ well-being, are struggling with exhaustion, deteriorating quality of life, and loss of income that feed into negative macroeconomic impacts. We cannot leave this to families alone,” said Horecky. “As the numbers of older adults grow, governments will have no choice but to invest in the supports older adults need, to give them agency and to protect their rights, including the right to long-term care.”
Dr Donald Macaskill, CEO of Scottish Care added: “This international report is of real significance to those of us who care about older age in Scotland. It shows that many of the challenges we are facing in Scotland are global in nature but it also suggests that the solutions of a better recognised and rewarded workforce, investment in older age care and support and the innovative use of a human rights based use of technology are ones we need to build on in Scotland and elsewhere.”
Following an overview of long-term care practices in countries around the world, the paper addresses major challenges, from an overreliance on informal caregivers, the growing challenge of dementia onset among older adults and workforce challenges to long-term care infrastructure and policy needs. A roadmap of opportunities, challenges and action are as follows, including sustainable funding models, reshaping long-term care systems; and country-specific needs assessments.