Let us take a trip out of the USA and look at what the rest of the world is doing to address the growth of their older populations. Bio demography tells us that despite all the hoopla about the oncoming baby boomer wave of grey heads, the rest of the world already has a larger proportion of elders.
Instead of thinking of it as a bad thing, how about looking at it as who wins the you-get-to-live-longer sweepstakes? To put a different perspective on it, what country has more people who can live past age 65 or as I will refer to it the highest LP65 (live past 65) rating. In 2015, the World Bank in conjunction with the United Nations published estimates. The longevity prize goes to Japan with 26% LP65. Next is Italy with 22% LP65 then Germany also at 22%. Also there are a host of other European union nations with percentages 18% and up. This is in stark contrast to countries like Afghanistan with a LP65 of 3%.
Life is getting longer but we have to be get better in supporting that longer life. I read two items this past week that show the real contrast in getting ready and responding to the societal age drift. I was struck by an NPR article: http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/10/20/498719746/ikea-in-shanghai-tries-to-kick-out-freeloading-senior-citizens that reported one of China’s (LP65-10%) biggest cities, Shanghai. has a real problem. They seem to have a concentrated urban aging population but no such thing as a senior center. So they found one – the IKEA cafeteria! Hundreds of older citizens are meeting at the the mall for blind dates and simple socialization without buying anything and staying for an extended time. So the solution is to make it a rule you have to buy something?
In stark contrast, let us flip over a country that has as of 2015 a LP 65 rating of 16% – Canada. They win for the best innovative approach to what do we do before your senior population grows to more than 1 in 6 citizens. They are experimenting with something different in senior care. It is not a senior center, it is primarily a health care center for seniors combined with a senior wellness and community center. Built in the suburbs of Toronto near public transit, it still has the hierarchy of need on its three floors. Those familiar with nursing homes and Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) know what continuum of care means in reality.
The innovative part of this center is that the services start with wellness and community. You can walk in ground floor from the lovely court yards and here is your walking track, your auditorium and classes – a senior wellness hub. The second floor is for medical appointments and lab work and those who need senior day care. The third floor is where the real innovation and cost saving to the single payer healthcare system happens. They have a few overnight beds for that fragile transition period back to home after surgery or a short illness. This is a genuine priceless option for some. The overall purpose of the center is to enable those who live around it to really age in place. You can read all the details at:https://www.canadianarchitect.com/features/no-place-like-home/
So back to the USA. Our LP65 rating in 2015 was 15%. Yes we have had senior centers and park benches for generations. We have had Medicare and Social Security for generations. Our medical research infrastructure is helping coordinate the fight against disease and memory loss. But we will need to kick it up a notch. If 85% of those grey heads truly want to age in place, age in community we need more of a coordinated effort to help reinvent the ‘senior center’. We do not want to find ourselves hanging out at the mall with no where else to go.