The past 50 years have seen the average life expectancy after 60 increase dramatically in almost every Western country. With it comes the inevitable searching questions about just how well we cope with the needs of an ageing population. Are we doing enough to make sure the elderly are represented in the media fairly? Are we doing enough to ensure the elderly can engage with the younger groups of society? Are we doing enough to ensure the elderly have a good standard of living, whether living on their own, with family or in care? The answer is sadly no, but rather than point blame, we need to celebrate initiatives that are trying to improve conditions for the most vulnerable in society.
A neat little infographic courtesy of Bluebird Care finds the UK population of people over 65 will hit 30.7 percent by 2050. That's five million more than today, putting further strain on the already fraught national budget. Across the pond, America is looking at a 27 percent increase on their already beleaguered pension system. The 64.9 million current pensioners in America today live one of the highest financial standards of life in the world, but it's important we take steps now to deal with a rapidly growing aged population.
That's why it's refreshing to see initiatives like the free license fee for over 75s over in the UK. Currently the government covers the cost of the license fee for anyone over 75, although changes are being discussed that would mean the BBC must cover the costs themselves. This could have a significant impact on the quality of shows, and could even jeopardize the system altogether. This would be a major blow not just to Britain, but to the elderly in particular. With the majority of people under thirty finding their entertainment online, it's important we realise that some people still rely on TV for more than just entertainment. For many pensioners in the UK and U.S. today, TV is a vital form of companionship.
Other initiatives like the free bus pass for people over 60 policy in the UK have already been implemented, giving the older generation the financial freedom to leave the house and maintain regular contact. It's a great enterprise for our aging population, recognising the human need to have company without having to worry about budget constraints.
The Global Age Watch Index for 2014 makes a good point about isolation in older people. Programs training the elderly in all things technological have been proliferating in line with the rise in social media. Studies have found training those over 60 in the use of social networking sites increases cognitive ability and helps prevent feelings of seclusion and depression. Britain, Ireland and the US are taking positive steps to helping alleviate loneliness among pensioners, but it's actually the unassuming Norwegian's that are leading the way in senior standards. The GAWI 2014 found Norway was the best place to grow old, along with Sweden, Switzerland and Canada (there's just something about cold countries, huh). The study took into account several criterion, with income, health, personal capabilities, and an enabling social environment all contributing to the elderly standard of life.
The U.S. ranks 27th for elderly health standards, a relatively unimpressive position earned through its lack of universal healthcare. The marginal number of states adopting Obamacare may be preventing the country climbing any higher in the GAWI rankings, but that's not to say healthcare access for elderly Americans isn't improving. With the 2016 presidential election, healthcare is going to rank high on both parties' agenda. What is certain is that a more comprehensive medical bill with easier access to medical care will play a big role how the United States deals with the inevitable increase in elderly residents. Around 92 percent of people over 65 receive a state pension in the U.S., but it's vital that we take steps now to prepare society for the influx of senior citizens in the coming century.
Even countries with areas of abject poverty are starting to wake up to the need for reliable state support for the elderly. In Bangladesh over 2 million elderly people now receive the old-age allowance, meaning fewer have to continue working well into their final years. In Thailand, 6 million now receive the universal pension. China has been slowly introducing a quasi-social pension system that has reached over 100 million older people so far. Of course, the minimum allowance for state pension differs by country, but it marks a laudable change in national attitudes from just twenty years ago.
International standards are increasing, but there's still plenty we could all be doing to raise the standard even higher. Care homes are always looking for extra volunteers, but you can bring it even closer to home. A quick phone call to an elderly relative can keep them feeling connected to the outside world. Britain's success in ensuring the elderly have a strong social environment mean they sit third in the GAWI, with Ireland and the US both ranking in the top twenty. Engaging the aged generation in a social environment should always be encouraged. Likewise, any policies that allow them to maintain contact with their loved ones without leaving the house is a great way of anchoring them to an ever moving society.
As a society we're certainly having a go at adapting to the growing aging population in the Western world, but we can always do more. Find out today about the hundreds of ways you can help out in your local area. This isn't just about taking care of the less vulnerable in society, it's about ensuring the elderly of today have the same standard of life we will expect when we're in the same situation.