On March 19-21, the Regional Council of North Karelia with DART (Declining, Ageing and Regional Transformation), the Finnish Ministry of Health and the European Alliance for Families organised a conference on ‘Perspectives on Ageing’ in Joensuu, Finland. The conference facilitated several workshops, expert lectures, panel discussions and meetings aimed to discuss issues pertinent to ageing policies. Among the main themes of the conference was the question of how to best ensure that EU health and long-term care systems will be able to cope with an increase in demand due to population ageing?
In addition to this core question, conference presenters also discussed issues of employment and migration, ageing and quality of care, the relationship between healthcare providers and healthcare users as well as wider demographic challenges. The conference aimed to (1) raise political and general awareness of the issues concerning population ageing; (2) generate innovative policy measures to tackle the present and forthcoming challenges related to health and long-term care, and (3) facilitate networking and sharing of experience among regional, national and European stakeholders.
Pekka Kuosmanen, Director of Health and Social Services, City of Joensuu, welcomed conference participants by giving an overview of her regional centre, its health and social welfare and its policies aimed at making ageing experiences positive. Overall the conference presenters highlighted several demographic trends that will have important implications for the EU employment and wider social strategy.
Currently the EU’s population is characterised by low fertility which is below replacement level. At the same time, as Joachim Cohen from the End-of-Life Care Research Group at Ghent University and Vrije Universiteit Brussels in Belgium demonstrated in his presentation, the life expectancy of EU nationals is steadily increasing, putting pressure on pension and health care systems. In light of these trends it is important to be aware of the wider employment needs. Lieve Fransen, Director at the DG for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission, highlighted in her presentation that in the next decade the demand for labour in the EU is estimated to increase by 7.5 million workers, continuing the current trend of a growing service economy as opposed to manufacturing. Several other presenters stressed that it also important to be aware of the growing need for appropriate health care providers for an increasingly older population, in particular the growing role of preventative and palliative care. Jos De Blok, Executive Director of Buurtzorg Nederland, presented an example of providing cost-effective services for the elderly that focuses on prevention and good quality of care, whilst providing a rewarding place to work for its employees.
Other presentations included those prepared for workshops with topics that incorporated the following issues: acquiring knowledge about ageing as a multidisciplinary process; multi-sectoral support for independent old age living; and empowerment of care patients in produce and service development. In particular, Riitta Antikainen, Professor of Geriatric Medicine, University of Oulu, highlighted several important public health issues among the elderly, including health promotion, improving quality of life and quality of care as well as diminishing the gap in health inequalities. Professor Antikainen cited recent research that reiterated strategies of successful ageing, in particular healthy lifestyle; having appropriate health screening tools for the elderly that are tailored to recognise people at risk; as well as promoting regular vaccinations, active lifestyle, cognitive stimulation and social activities.
During the first workshop, Taina Mäntyranta, Ministerial Advisor, Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs, presented ‘Equality access to quality care’. The presentation outlined strategic guidelines that included the promotion of health and welfare, service structure, staffing levels and staff competence, quality living and care environments. Mäntyranta discussed what quality living and care environments include and the role that municipal health and welfare authorities should play in addressing the care home needs of the elderly. She also stressed the importance of promoting staff competence that would include a vocational qualification in social welfare and/or health care for those working in this field. The presentation illuminated some of the factors that may create problems for ensuring that the elderly have equal access to quality care, including issues of geography, local variation, gender and socioeconomic differences (for instance education and income).
In the second workshop entitled ‘Acquiring knowledge about ageing as multidisciplinary process’, Arja Jämsén, Regional Unit Manager of East Finland Centre for Social Welfare Work Expertise, spoke about the ‘upside-down’ traditional thinking about ageing population where the elderly are viewed as a resource rather than a burden to society. According to this presentation, ‘knowledge of ageing’ should be approached from the assumption that ageing is an extensive and complex phenomenon and that understanding it requires a multidisciplinary approach and the participation of different members of society, including senior citizens, who should be involved in designing policies tailored for them. Jämsén presented the case of North Karelia that has a growing elderly population and has been successful in finding innovative ways to involve senior citizens in contributing to ageing strategies and policies as well as promoting a new direction for working with the elderly that promotes an active life, continued learning and happy life.
The conference concluded with the visit day that covered themes such as long-term care services; education and training; multi-sectoral cooperation between service producers; and product and service innovations.
Some of the presentations from the conference are available here.