The isolation of the elderly, a global phenomenon

Every Friday, RCF radio gives the floor to the leaders of the French association Petits Frères des Pauvres for a morning column on issues related to aging. This week, the column was dedicated to the international dimension of the isolation of the elderly.

By Yann Lasnier, General Delegate of the Petits Frères des Pauvres

Every second in the world, 2 people pass the age of 60 and the number of people aged 80 or more will multiply by 4 in the next 30 years.

All continents are facing a significant aging of their population and, unfortunately, a concomitant increase in situations of relational isolation. These are observations that are also made by the Petits Frères des Pauvres, which is present in a dozen countries around the world, and which supports associations in the countries of the South.

And even countries that had a long tradition of family support for the elderly are seeing this intergenerational solidarity weaken, with the modification of lifestyles and the worrying shift of many elderly people into situations of solitude and isolation.

The findings between countries are often similar: significant increase in the number of very old people, unpreparedness of States to take care of the most fragile, the link between social isolation and precariousness, societal changes generated by increased mobility and, in some of the poorest regions of the world, the exodus of populations to large cities – or even a strong migratory phenomenon for countries damaged by highly unstable political situations and complex economic situations.

After the United Kingdom, a pioneer in this field in 2018, Japan has just created a Ministry of Solitude. As with our British neighbors, the objective is to fight against the loneliness of all populations, young and old. This type of initiative is interesting because fighting against isolation throughout life can promote prevention.

Some countries are betting on digital solutions that make us wonder, like in Korea where the authorities have decided to equip elderly people living alone with connected speakers or Japan and the United States which are testing so-called companion robots.

It is not certain that these gadgets, packed with new technology, are the answer to isolation. For us, Petits Frères des Pauvres, the only answer to the isolation of the elderly is human. Moreover, if the crisis we are going through shows us the interest of digital technology, it also shows us its limits: it does not replace what we currently miss the most, contact with others, in real life.

Fragile countries, newly confronted with this phenomenon, lack institutional responses for the moment. For each nation, the response to the consequences of longevity will obviously be one of the major political issues of tomorrow.

Yann Lasnier, General Delegate of  Petits Frères des Pauvres – France

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