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Care of the elderly: how it is produced and what proposals are there

Care of the elderly: how it is produced and what proposals are there

July 19, 2024

The care of the elderly is a practice that has generated important debates in the last decades. This is because, in the face of social transformations and the most recent economic crises, aging has begun to be recognized as one of the stages most exposed to different conditions of vulnerability around the world.

Because of this, political and theoretical debates on care practices have become fundamental in the creation of strategies to mitigate the vulnerability of older adults and to strengthen both support networks and social policies.

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Is taking care of the elderly a problem?

The term caring comes from the Latin cogitare, which means to think; so it can be understood as "thinking", but also as "having a concern". Hence, its meaning can be transferred to having a concern that something unwanted happens, a concern that translates into a concrete practice: to protect someone from an undesired event, because that someone have difficulty doing it by himself .


Care is then a rational activity that connects with an emotional dimension (Izquierdo, 2003): is focused on fear of the other's awareness of vulnerability , a question that human beings satisfy among ourselves through interpersonal relationships.

Therefore, care is currently one of the central issues in the development of our societies. For example, a large part of social and health policies are organized around wondering who is being cared for, who can or should meet that need, and what are the options available to do so.

In view of this, many challenges have been detected. Among others, there is a question that has recently worried the world population, especially those who have lived the "baby-boom" after the Second World War: Who will take care of us in our aging process?


Changes and challenges of care in old age

Frequently old age is understood as a problem, or at best, as a challenge or a challenge. Far from having old intrinsic qualities of conflict, the challenges have been the social and economic changes that often leave some people on the sidelines of strategies designed to cover basic needs; what in turn, generates passive positions and low participation in social affairs .

For example, health in old age is a challenge, but not because of old age itself, but because health is increasingly expensive, there is a greater shortage of professionals and material or economic resources, their distribution and access are inequitable; In addition, there have been important changes in the social and productive roles of those who have been the main caregivers over time: direct families.


As one of the alternatives to cushion this, the concept of "active aging" has emerged, which refers to the optimization of physical, social and intellectual opportunities focused on the autonomy and rights of the elderly .

This concept has allowed the development of some strategies, however, in some cases it has also served to make the elderly themselves responsible for a problem that is social, political and economic; which makes us see that this is a more complex issue than it might seem.

Despite this, in many contexts, aging is no longer seen as a problem. There is a tendency to promote the social participation of the elderly, and to rethink the concept and care practices, more specifically those related to health and illness.

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Who cares?

The family support network (the family support ratio), which is the direct family, has constituted the great majority of caregivers. However, due to the socioeconomic changes of the last decades, the ratios of family support are being drastically modified.

For example, in Spain it is estimated that the number of caregivers will change from being 6 carers for each adult of 80 years, to only three people by the year 2034. The consequence of this has been a considerable increase in the care needs of elderly people, as well as the groups or people who are responsible for satisfying them.

In addition, the practice of care It has a very important gender dimension : being something that has been understood especially in relation to the private space, we have also been the women who have socialized in a greater identification with these values ​​and tasks.

As a result, much of the caregiving practices are conducted by women, and there is even a widespread belief that care is a 'female task'. Therefore, another of the major issues discussed has been the 'feminization of care'.

Likewise, in many populations, the same political and socioeconomic conditions have promoted that care is also a semi-professional task for the migrant population , population that has contained much of the problem of the scarcity of care.

In other words, an important lack of care for the elderly and other populations living in vulnerable contexts has been put on the table, as well as the need to generate new political and socio-educational strategies both at the family and professional levels. In this context, it acquires relevance Strengthening intrafamily solidarity strategies in connection with social policies .

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5 proposals of the World Health Organization (WHO)

Although caring for the elderly is not a practice that is limited solely to health, it is in this sector that some specific challenges have been posed. In view of this, WHO has begun to develop a program called the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Aging and Health.

In this way, an important part of the care practices begin to be the responsibility of public organizations, beyond focusing on private spaces and family . Some of the proposals that make up this plan are the following:

1. Commitment to healthy aging

Closely related to the concept of active aging, it refers to a sensitization process to create sustainable measures and scientifically based policies that can foster the skills of older adults and their autonomy .

2. Alignment of health systems with the needs of the elderly

The aim is not to underestimate the need for the health system to organize itself around the diversity of old age, to detect the preferences of the elderly and to consolidate a good professional assistance network .

3. Establishment of systems to offer chronic care

The relevance of enhancing the timely detection of chronic and long-term care needs, including palliative care, and especially the strengthening of infrastructures and staff capacity, is discussed.

4. Create environments adapted to the elderly

Due to the relationship between care and vulnerability, one of the most important issues in the topic is to extend the necessary measures to avoid stigma and discrimination , as well as to empower autonomy and empowerment from the most basic and daily levels.

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5. Improve measurements, monitoring and understanding

Finally, the WHO recognizes the need to promote research focused on aging, as well as creating new mechanisms for measurement and analysis that are diverse, and that allow understanding and addressing the complexity of care in old age.

Bibliographic references:

  • World Health Organization (2018). Aging and health Key facts. Retrieved April 30, 2018. Available at //www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/environment-and-health.
  • Alfama, E., Ezquerra, S. & Cruells, M. (2014). Grow old in times of crisis. Retrieved April 30, 2018. Available at //www.academia.edu/10729630/Envejecer_en_tiempos_de_crisis.
  • Abellán, A. & Pujol. R. (2013). Who will take care of us when we are octogenarians? Retrieved April 30, 2018. Available in //envejecimientoenred.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/quien-cuidara-de-nosotros-cuando-seamos-octogenarios/.
  • Left, M. J. (2003). The care of individuals and groups: who cares. Social organization and gender. Paper presented at the Catalan Congress of Mental Health. Working group on identity, gender and mental health. Retrieved April 30, 2018. Available at //www.debatefeminista.cieg.unam.mx/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/articulos/030_08.pdf.

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