“Healthy aging is more than merely the absence of disease and entails also the maintenance of key functional abilities throughout the lifespan”, as explained by former WHO general director Margaret Chan.
To achieve this, it is key that health and long-term care systems are aligned to meet the needs of an increasingly aging population. The focus should be on maintaining older people’s capacity to lead independent lives.
In fact, “Older people’s living arrangements are an important determinant of their economic well-being, physical and psychosocial health and life satisfaction.”
Older people who live alone or reside in institutions are associated with having higher overall mortality risks than those living with a spouse or other family members.
The majority of older people in Northern America and Europe live independently. Most older people in these countries prefer to live independently if their health allows it.
Independent living does not mean that there is no family support or that they have an increased mortality rate.
Often, older people and their children live relatively close to each other and help each other financially and through informal care.
In most less-developed countries, the majority of older people live with their children or extended family members. In many of these countries, there is a lack of comprehensive social protection programs. Along with declining labor market prospects for older people’s adult children, co-residence of older parents with their children is important in maintaining financial, emotional, and care support within families.
Since living arrangements are, generally, a reflection of individual needs, preferences, and resources, there is no single best policy to enable independent lives.
Technological advances are not only impacting the living arrangements of people, in general, in smart cities but also improving living conditions within homes. Smart-home devices among others can enable more comfort as well as facilitate energy and cost savings. For older people, new technologies based on AI allow them to live independently, contributing to a higher level of life satisfaction and quality.
According to the WHO, one in three people in the world over sixty-five years of age falls every year, and half of them fall at least twice.
There are many factors that might lead to them falling. Environmental risk factors related to the design and arrangement of a space, are perceived by older people as direct causes of falls.
By designing a space in line with the concept of smart homes, safety for seniors can be improved in homes. Smart-home technologies allow older people to be independent, contributing to a higher level of satisfaction and quality of life.
Some examples of smart-home initiatives that contribute to an improved quality of life for older people are home security cameras to monitor who is coming and going, smart lighting in hallways, and smart plugs with timers to ensure that devices are on only when appropriate and necessary.
While smart technologies seem like a very promising avenue to improve the quality of life of older persons, there are some challenges in the implementation. Older people might be unwilling to learn a new technology, lack confidence with technology, dislike the technology due to frustration, and fear or not be able to afford the maintenance or replacement of the technology.
For older people, there is no single best policy for where and how to live as they continue to grow older. Some may prefer to live alone, while others find comfort in other family members. As the role of technology is also becoming more pronounced in homes, this enables older people to live more independent lives. Nevertheless, some may be wary of such technologies within the confines of their homes.
All in all, the world will continue to age rapidly over the coming decades. From the perspective of those aging, this may be difficult at times as they might want to maintain their youth and associate aging with something negative. Nevertheless, advances in technology, lifestyle, healthcare, and living conditions might enable people to age more happily and healthily.