Healthy ageing is a life-long project – experts discuss how to implement healthy-ageing policies

Sjef Prins van Apa fotografie

Thirty-four Member States participated in the first European meeting of national experts on ageing policies held in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on 16−17 December 2013. The meeting brought together a network of international policy makers who, in collaboration with WHO are working to bring the WHO strategy and action plan for healthy ageing to life at the national level. Future activities will cover the following four strategic areas for action:

  • ageing over the life-course;
  • age-friendly, supportive environments at all levels of government;
  • people-centered health systems for ageing populations;
  • gaps in evidence and research.

Participants discussed national action in core action areas

The core action areas include: promotion of physical activity and prevention of falls; vaccination against and control of infectious diseases; public support for home care and self-care; capacity building in geriatrics and gerontology within the medical and other health professions; prevention of social isolation; integration and quality of care, including care for people with dementia.

The newly formed network of policy experts for healthy ageing voted the following priority topics for collaboration with WHO: effective governance across all levels; public support to enable people to live at home as long as possible; and the promotion of physical activity.

National examples of good practice pave the way for further progress

Participants shared the same opportunities and challenges in developing and implementing integrated strategies and action for healthy ageing. Some of the key points raised included:

  • better assessing older citizens’ requirements, and providing more guidance for carers on managing self-care and fostering their skills;
  • improving the environments of and support for carers;
  • improving access to good quality services by reducing inequalities and barriers, and through better risk assessment;
  • moving from a care-for-the-old-and-frail approach to a more holistic approach empowering people across the life-course to stay healthy for as long as possible;
  • monitoring the impact of policy changes, and filling the gaps in evidence required for policy-making, such as that on the health trends and the functional status of ageing populations;
  • empowering local authorities to step up implementation;
  • collaborating successfully for cross-sectoral action, and encouraging private and voluntary action (in accordance with the principles of Health 2020, the overarching policy framework for health and well-being in Europe);
  • estimating the need for specialists in geriatrics;
  • examining the role of innovation and technology in improving the situation of seniors;
  • assessing the impact of the financial crisis on the lives of older people (an increasing number having to choose between medicine, heating and adequate food);
  • assessing the impact of dementia on ageing populations and their carers (the estimated number of informal carers for each person with dementia being 3−4); and
  • managing polypharmacy.

The meeting was hosted by the Vilans Institute, a centre of expertise in long-term care.