Which Countries Are Best At Caring For Their Elderly?

Oct 17, 2014 4 min

Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada and Germany all top the list of countries that are best at caring for their elderly, while Britain trails behind at number 11. 

Is Britain the best?

Britain is by no means the worst, but we have a long way to go before we’re the best. Ranking 11th overall, the UK did well on social environment factors, but did less well on education and employment, placing behind Estonia, Bolivia, and the Philippines, at 23rd. The UK also ranked poorly in healthcare, placing 27th, behind Costa Rica, Chile, Greece and Colombia, with Japan leading in the category. The ageing population in Britain is expanding rapidly, with 23% of the population at 60 years old or over. This figure is expected to rise to 28% by 2030, and as a result provision for the elderly is becoming a political hot potato.

So what roles do nationality, national policy and cultural practices play in elderly care? Do countries, where the wisdom of elders is more highly regarded, have better care in general? Do those who value productivity have poorer standards of care for the elderly or infirm?

The population of the world includes 12% people over the age of 60, and that figure is on the rise. How do we ensure that this increasing portion of our population maintains a higher quality of life?

A recent index published by HelpAge.org took a look at quality of life in 96 countries around the globe, representing 91% of the world’s elderly population.

Which countries are the best?

The top five countries for elderly quality of life include European and North American locales. More specifically, Scandinavian countries are among the highest, with an expected 10% rise in the elderly segment of the population by 2050.

1- Norway

Norway tops the list with the best income and employment rates for the elderly. With 100% pension coverage, only 1.8% of the elderly population has an income in the lowest quarter of national incomes. The country drops to 4th for enabling societies, with only 56% of the elderly feeling content with the public transportation system and 89% feeling they have someone they can count on in times of need. Health-wise, Norway gets its lowest ranking at 16th, but with 98.9% of the elderly in Norway feeling their life has purpose, they more than make up for it. As a whole, Norway’s elderly are expected to enjoy another 24 years of life after reaching the age of 60, 17.4 of those years in good health.

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2- Sweden

Sweden has a mix of high ratings, making it one of the best countries overall for quality of life for the elderly. Ranking 6th in enabling society, Sweden has higher satisfaction with public transportation and the same percentage of elderly feeling they have someone to count on when needed compared to Norway. Income security is still high, with 100% pension coverage, but a slightly higher number of seniors are under half the median per capita income. Though Swedes have the same life expectancy as Norwegians, they’re expected to have another 9.6 months of healthy living. It must be the sauna culture!

3- Switzerland

Switzerland has lower income and job security than many other countries with senior incomes 17% lower than the national average, but makes up for it in terms of healthcare and enabling society. As the top country in terms of enabled living, 83% of Swiss elderly are happy with their public transportation options, 70% feel safe in their homes and neighbourhoods and 91% feel they have someone to count on when they need help. The excellent health care available means that after reaching the age of 60, the elderly in Switzerland can expect to live an average of 25 more years, 19 of those in good health.

4- Canada

Canada is similar to Sweden’s mix of high rankings, with one of the best general environments for the elderly. Ranking 4th in health care, Canadians can expect to live another 25 years after reaching the age of 60, with 18.3 of those years in good health. The same number of Canadian seniors felt that their life had meaning. As the first country in the top 5 without 100% pension coverage, 97.7% of Canadians receive a pension and only 7.2% receive an income under half the median per capita income for the country. Though access to jobs and public transportation was somewhat lacking, a very high percentage of the elderly felt safe in their homes and had good social support when in need.

5- Germany

Germany also has a good mix of high ratings, with high educational and vocational numbers. Though it does have 100% pension coverage, there is no social pension to help the 9.7% of the elderly whose income is under half the national average. With a slightly lower life expectancy of living 24 years beyond the age of 60, 17.8 of these in good health, Germany has a higher percentage of elderly feeling that their lives have worth, 1.2% higher than adults aged 35-49. German seniors also have higher rates of social support, feeling safe in their homes, with 90% feeling they have someone to count on in times of need and 69% feeling content with their public transportation options.

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What we can do

It’s fair to say that the UK could do a lot better. With pensions that are barely enough to live on, austerity measures squeezing council budgets, and care agencies charging high rates while paying carers minimum wage, it’s no surprise that we’re a long way behind the rest. Real change could be a long way off, but creative solutions are being developed all the time that could make life easier in the long run.

HomeTouch provides a middle ground between sourcing home care privately, and going through an agency. While agencies decide which carers to send and when, private care offers a cheaper alternative with more control, but does require you to provide employment contracts and leave cover. HomeTouch combines the best parts of both; you control who comes into your home, organising care directly with your preferred carer, while we take care of the contracts and leave cover, providing support with the process from beginning to end.

Find out more caring for the elderly:

Dr Jamie WilsonFounder and Chief Medical Officer at Hometouch

Dr Jamie Wilson is hometouch’s founder and Chief Medical Officer. Jamie’s creation of hometouch was inspired by his work as a dementia psychiatrist in the NHS, and he has written about healthcare issues in The Times and the Evening Standard. Jamie has a MBBS from the University of Leeds and has spent a decade in the NHS, working as a Psychiatric Registrar and Memory Specialist at Imperial College Hospital.

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