Sweden's elderly are unhealthier but more independent: study

2:05 min

Elderly people make up a bigger and bigger part of the Swedish population. But as the population ages and our lives get longer, will we also get healthier in old age or will we experience more years of bad health?

Health among Sweden's elderly people has worsened over the past 20 years, but at the same time elderly people have become more independent and are managing to look after themselves better than ever before.

Those are the paradoxical findings of a new study by researchers at the Aging Research Centre in Stockholm.

So on the one hand, as our lives get longer so do the periods where we experience physical problems. But on the other hand, we are becoming better at taking care of ourselves in old age - and that is something which can greatly improve one's quality of life.

Stefan Fors at the Aging Research Center explains that while Swedes aged 77 to 98 are suffering from more physical and psychological ailments, they also have access to more and more resources to help them get through the day - so they can eat, wash and walk by themselves for instance.

"Walking frames and other aides have made a huge difference in elderly people's lives. This means they can be independent for longer and that's very important ," Fors tells Swedish Radio.

The consequences of an ageing population is the subject of much research and debate in Sweden and elsewhere. And two central issues here are whether we will get to experience more healthy years or more years of poor health, and what consequences an ageing population has on society as a whole.

The new Swedish study contradicts other findings that say elderly people's health is improving, but it also shows that elderly people won't need as much assistance in the future.

"More and more of us will experience becoming bedridden. More of us will also experience a period of health in old age, when we can manage our everyday lives and when we can still travel around and play golf. So more healthy years followed, unfortunately, by more unhealthy years," says Fors.

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