30 September 2014

Promoting Active ageing in the EU

 - Saturday, 28 April 2012, 00:00

by David Casa

As the population of Europe grows older, many citizens are concerned about

their future.

How will the EU support public health? How will older people maintain their jobs? How can family members who support older relatives expect to be assisted? These are all valid questions to consider as one thinks about the ageing population.

An ageing population presents a number of challenges, including an increase in the cost of healthcare and the ongoing struggle to implement measures that will encourage older people to stay in work for longer. It is of the utmost importance that we keep those living over 65 in Europe as healthy as possible.

Aside from the obvious humanitarian reasons for pursuing such an endeavour, it will also be of benefit to our economy by helping the EU maintain reasonable healthcare costs as well as increasing the number of people contributing to the economy through continued participation in the labour market. This is no easy feat; however, there is much being done and much more still to do. Europeans can look forward to stronger initiatives in favour of a healthy elderly society in Europe in the next 50 years.

Europe has a rather large population of people over 65 and this figure will only get bigger in time. The Commission’s website states that “by 2050, the number of people in the EU aged 65 and above is expected to grow by 70% and the number of people aged over 80 by 170%”. This is also expected to bring a 40% increase in chronic diseases affecting older people.

This reality must be addressed as it constitutes an inevitable challenge that all EU member states will face in the coming decades. Already public spending on health accounts for 7.8% of GDP in the EU and that percentage is expected to go up by 3% in the next century due to ageing. European policymakers and politicians are right to be proactive in finding solutions to the challenges the EU will face as a result of the forecasts abovementioned.

At the EU level, the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIPAHA) is looking to increase the average healthy lifespan in the EU by two years by 2020. This initiative deals with improving the quality of life for all people, but focuses on the older population. The hope is that by supporting efficiency of health and social care systems, it will also be able to enhance the competitiveness of EU industry through expansion in new markets.

In February of this year, the Commission released a White Paper on the EIPAHA, which is available online. The White Paper is very hopeful, as it discusses concrete measures that will be taken by the EU. The communication stresses that the EIPAHA will help boost a number of the Europe 2020 flagships including New Skills for New Jobs and the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion. The paper also specifies a wide variety of areas and mechanisms that aim to enhance health literacy, prevention and early diagnosis, and innovation for an age-friendly environment. The paper is extremely thorough and reflective of the productivity and determination at EU level regarding the issue of healthy ageing.

The EIPAHA considers that an ageing population implies an increase in chronic diseases that are already now having a substantially negative impact on our older peoples’ quality of life. The EIPAHA works in conjunction with EU public health programmes to support the prevention of these diseases and help further accomplish the goals of the EIPAHA initiative. Specific diseases deserving mention include Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental health problems, and diabetes. Many of these diseases are preventable which is why the EU increasingly supports research into cause, prevention, and treatment.

World Health Day 2012, which took place on 7 April, was dedicated to active ageing. The worldwide campaign focuses on promoting health awareness on all levels from citizens to governments. World Health Day was supported by the EU institutions, and the European Commission specifically supported the theme of promoting good health throughout life.

Excitingly, Eurostat released a statement that men and women living in the EU can now be expected to live nine more years in a healthy state. This can surely be attributed to the advances made in the public healthcare sector across the EU. With intense initiatives such as EIPAHA, we can almost certainly count on seeing more improvements for the lives of our older people.

David Casa is a Nationalist MEP

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