Care for the elderly: how it works and what proposals there are

Caring for the elderly is a practice that has sparked significant debate over the past decades. Indeed, 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 the various conditions of vulnerability in the world.

For this reason, political and theoretical debates on care practices have become essential in creating strategies to reduce the vulnerability of older people and to strengthen both support networks and social policies.

    Is caring for the elderly a problem?

    The term to take care comes from the Latin cogitare, which means to think; it can therefore be understood as “thinking”, but also as “having a concern”. This is why its meaning can be transferred to the fear that something unwanted will happen, a concern that results in a specific practice: protecting someone from an unwanted event, because someone he has trouble doing it alone.

    Care is therefore a rational activity that connects to an emotional dimension (Izquierdo, 2003): it is focused on the fear of the awareness of the vulnerability of the other, Question that human beings satisfy between us through interpersonal relationships.

    This is why healthcare is currently one of the central issues in the development of our societies. For example, much of social and health policy is organized around the question of who is being cared for, who can or should meet this need, and what options are available to do so.

    Faced with this, many challenges have been identified. Among others, there is one question that has recently worried the world population, especially those who experienced the “baby boom” after WWII: Who will take care of us in our aging process?

    Changes and challenges in the care of the elderly

    Old age is often seen as a problem or, at best, a challenge. Far from old age itself having contradictory intrinsic qualities, the challenges have been the social and economic changes themselves which often leave some people on the margins of strategies to meet basic needs; what in turn it generates passive positions and little participation in social affairs.

    For example, health in old age is a challenge, but not because of old age itself, but because health is more and more expensive, there is a greater shortage of professionals and of material or economic resources. , their distribution and access are unequal; in addition, there have been significant changes in the social and productive roles of those who have been the primary 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. focusing on autonomy and the rights of the elderly.

    This concept has made it possible to develop certain strategies, but in some cases it has also served to make the elderly person responsible for a social, political and economic problem; which makes us see that it is a more complex question than it seems.

    However, 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 practices of care, especially those related to health and illness.

      We do not care?

      The family support network (The family support ratio), which is the direct family, made up the vast majority of caregivers. However, due to socio-economic changes in recent decades, family support ratios are changing dramatically.

      For example, in Spain, it is estimated that the number of caregivers will drop from 6 caregivers per 80-year-old adult to just three by 2034. This has resulted in a considerable increase in the care needs of the elderly, as thus than the groups or people responsible for meeting them.

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

      Therefore, much of the practice of care is led by women, and there has even been a widely held belief that care is a “female task”. Therefore, another of the main issues discussed was the “feminization of care”.

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

      In other words, there is currently a significant lack of care for the elderly and other populations in vulnerable contexts, as well as the need to generate new political and socio-educational strategies both at family and professional level. In this context, it acquires relevance strengthen intra-family solidarity strategies in connection with social policies.

        5 proposals from the World Health Organization (WHO)

        Although the care of the elderly is not a practice that boils down to health alone, it is in this sector that specific challenges have arisen. In response, WHO began to develop a program called the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Aging and Health.

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

        1. Commitment to healthy aging

        Closely linked to the concept of active aging, it refers to an awareness-raising process aimed at creating sustainable and science-based policy measures. promote the skills of the elderly and their autonomy.

        2. Alignment of health systems with the needs of older people

        This is not to deny the need to organize the health system around the diversity of old age, towards detect the preferences of the elderly and towards the consolidation of a good network of professional assistance.

        3. Establishment of chronic care systems

        The importance of promoting the timely detection of chronic and long-term care needs, including palliative care, and in particular from building infrastructure and staff capacity, is discussed.

        4. Create environments suitable for the elderly

        Because of the relationship between care and vulnerability, one of the most important issues in the problem is to extend the measures necessary to prevent stigma and discrimination, As well as to improve autonomy and empowerment of the most basic and everyday levels.

          5. Improve measurement, monitoring and understanding

          Finally, WHO recognizes the need to strengthen research focused on aging, as well as to create new measurement and analysis mechanisms that are diverse and that allow for understanding and addressing the complexity of elderly care.

          Bibliographical references:

          • World Health Organization (2018). Aging and health. Highlights. Accessed April 30, 2018.Available at
          • Alfama, I., Gauche, S. & Cruells, M. (2014). Aging in times of crisis. Accessed April 30, 2018.Available at
          • Abellán, A. and Pujol. R. (2013). Who will take care of us when we are eighty? Accessed April 30, 2018.Available at
          • On the left, MJ (2003). Caring for individuals and groups: who cares. Social organization and gender. Article presented at the Catalan Congress of Mental Health. Identity, Gender and Mental Health Working Group. Accessed April 30, 2018.Available at

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