Dependent elderly people and socio-economic deprivation: strategies for innovative policies in Europe

Dependent elderly people and socio-economic deprivation: strategies for innovative policies in Europe

An article by Silvia Prieto, Vicente Traver, Olga Navarro, Sandra Martínez

Recently, a team from the Polibienestar Research Institute at the University of Valencia published the book titled ’Strategies for innovative policies in Europe: addressing socio-economic deprivation in the presence of dependent elderly individuals’. The publication was authored by a team of researchers from the Institute, coordinated by Ms Georgia Casanova.

This publication, summarising the results of the “Socio Economic deprivation related to effect of presence of Dependant older people: strategies for Innovative Policies in Europe” project (SEreDIPE), which received funding from Horizon 2020 MSCA-IF-2019 under Georgia Casanova’s leadership, highlights the varying degrees of impoverishment experienced by families with dependent elderly individuals. This variance is influenced by the public policies implemented in the eight European Union countries examined, including Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania. Two years of rigorous research, extensive dialogues, and in-depth discussions with experts, stakeholders, and policymakers across the eight European nations have culminated in the SErediPE study’s findings. This study affirms that the existence of care requirements for dependent elderly individuals elevates the likelihood of European families experiencing material, economic, and social deprivation. This is predominantly due to the continued family responsibility and active engagement in household caregiving in many European countries. SErediPE also highlighted how this issue, despite its relevance, is still being barely discussed at local, national, and international levels.

The proposed solution

The most effective solution for mitigating the risk of socio-economic deprivation among families caring for their dependent elderly members is the implementation of a robust public strategy that prioritises care services and family support policies. The consensus among the 62 European experts involved in this study reinforces this conclusion, underscoring the need for a fundamental shift in care strategies for those lacking self-sufficiency, with particular emphasis on acknowledging informal care as a strategic element of care, promoting social innovation.

From a service perspective, even residential care should receive increased recognition and funding, as indicated by the SErediPE study, which identifies it as one of the potentially most impactful services for mitigating the risk of socio-economic deprivation among families.

Healthcare and social service professionals should demonstrate understanding, empathy, and active facilitation for families grappling with the negative consequences of caring for a dependent elderly person. Eventually, the training of healthcare sector personnel and students should enhance the skills of this sector and encourage a more inclusive approach to healthcare.

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The sustainability of the European health care sector has been challenged by 6 mega trends over the last several years. To respond to these trends and achieve maximum care quality, patient safety, efficiency, and economic sustainability, the sector has undergone major changes:   

(i) Increased digitalization  

(ii) A shift towards patient-centered care 

(iii) Greater patient involvement in in co-designing care pathways