Healthcare in Sweden has several things going for it that would make it a model of elder care. Since 1980, for example, the health care requirements of the elder generation in Sweden have gone down and have miraculously stayed down, something that very few nations can say. Yet Swedish elders are also living longer than their counterparts in most of the world. While many nations, especially the United States, are left biting their nails in the face of a rapidly aging society and higher healthcare costs, Sweden just had theirs manicured. Therefore, the way Sweden takes care of the elderly is worth looking into.
Sweden has roughly 9.8 million citizens. Just shy of 2 million are over the age of 65. That is 20% of their current population. By the year 2040, 1 in every 4 Swedes will be over the age of 65, yet they aren’t breaking a sweat. Well, actually they are. It is just the real kind of sweat. When looking at healthcare in Sweden and why Sweden has such healthy and robust older people you find they have placed a high priority in the following areas:
- Preventive care
- Priority is given to aging in place
- Accessibility to home health and practical help services
- Physician prescribed physical activity
- Timely treatment; doctor’s appointments within 7 days and no more than 90 days to see a specialist or have an operation.
Healthcare in Sweden is a decentralized national healthcare system with a national center for research and development, a robust national pension agency, and many other associations to help the elderly transition with grace and dignity into their final years. They are also facing upcoming challenges to the population demographic swing, but by and large they are just buffing a little here and reshaping a little there.
Let’s take a closer look at the way Sweden has prioritized aging in their society because it has more to do with the way they view their elders than it does with policy.
Devolution to Grass Roots, Local Participation
Sweden implemented the Adel reform in 1992. This major reform shifted responsibility for elderly care to local municipalities, with county councils overseeing the responsibility to provide home health services rather than a centralized system making general policy decisions for the “greater good.” As a whole, Sweden allocates 3.6% of their total GDP to municipal long-term elderly care. These funds are then dispersed to raise the competency of municipality “care managers” and workers and to provide financial incentives to hospitals to reduce the number of unnecessary hospitalizations and re-hospitalizations. They also deliver pre-cooked meals to homes as part of an aging in place incentive. The emphasis is placed on community involvement, citizen empowerment, and public accountability.
As a result, Sweden has been able to keep over 90% of their elderly population aging in place. This has been a major factor in the success of the healthcare in Sweden for the elderly.
Sweden is taking a few extra steps to prepare for a growing elderly demographic. They are working on increasing the pension claiming age from 61 to 62 and possibly to 63; a shift not seen as adverse by many Swedish seniors who naturally lead less sedentary lives than Americans. Part of this may be due to the doctor prescribed physical activity. A person could walk out of the doctor’s office with a prescription for Crestor and for a specific type of daily exercise with follow-up care and testing.
…emphasis placed on quality of life for the elderly and their families.
Sweden is also looking at community housing policies for elderly who find it appealing. But all of Sweden’s elderly care policy is shifting towards local decision-making, with emphasis placed on quality of life for the elderly and their families. The public housing option would maintain a high quality of standards while keeping the priority on aging in place.
As other nations, including America, drift towards a nationalized healthcare system, or are struggling underneath one, it appears that the key to making single-payer healthcare successful is decentralization. When citizens have a greater voice in health care decision making, greater access to home help services and needed procedures, freedom to choose which municipality and providers they see and have an entire community that values the contribution to families and society that the elderly still provide, aging takes on a new meaning-or rather a renewed one.
Sweden. (2016). Elderly Care in Sweden. Available at https://sweden.se/society/elderly-care-in-sweden/. Last Visited March 3, 2016.
Global Health Aging. (August 3, 2014). Sweden: A Role Model for Elderly Care. Available at http://globalhealthaging.org/2014/08/03/sweden-a-role-model-for-elderly-care/. Last Visited March 3, 2016.