Are these elderly people of the future?
What is it like to be an elderly citizen in Finland? In many ways, we can take the Finnish elderly, their habits and behaviours, as a good model for the future also for other countries.
First of all, Finnish elderly are highly educated. We Finns are known for our success in the Pisa comparisons of school-children’s skills, but also our elderly population is widely educated. Basic schooling has covered all of Finland for a long time, with literacy education to all citizens starting from the 17th century. In 1880, more than 98% of Finns older than 15 had basic literacy skills.(source)
Learning and education are appreciated by the Finnish elderly, and they are active in learning new things. As an integral part of Finnish culture, adult education centres are very popular among the Finnish elderly. Tuition is offered in a wide variety of subjects, including languages, IT, arts and crafts, music, sports, cooking and wellbeing. The centres also often organise talks and lectures on a range of cultural topics as well as current social and political issues. What would be more fun than learning new skills and discussing current matters?
Finnish elderly are also active members of the society. They follow the news and more than 70% of them vote regularly - more than in many other democratic countries in the world. Such a grip on the present-day life affects also their lifestyle: they know their history, but they embrace the future. Finnish seniors are early adopters of modern technology, and most of them use smartphones, tablets and computers.
Traditionally, Finns are told to have a special relationship with nature. Many elderly Finns walk in the forests, pick mushroom and berries, go fishing and hunting, and ski regularly. Such a way of life is extremely healthy - just consider the effects of physical exercise and stress relief and add the hyper-healthy nutritional values. Even in cities, all Finns have direct access to nature - considered almost as a human right and heavily protected by land-use decisions. Finland is a very safe and healthy place to live; it was just evaluated 6th healthiest in the world among 188 countries in individual health and living standards.
For the elderly, Finland has 100% pension income coverage and low old-age poverty rate.
The health problems in the elderly population - like in most Western countries and globally more and more - are cardiovascular diseases, especially ischemic heart disease and stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and diabetes. The toughest health-behaviour issues are overweight, smoking, and alcohol use. There is a constant worry about the cost of elderly care and the age pyramid starting to widen from the top and shrink from the bottom.
Finland uses modern technology to tackle these problems. Extremely modern and well-functioning acute care for stroke patients puts Finland to the first place in the world, and in stroke rehabilitation, Finns enjoy the latest innovations including acute music-based rehabilitation. There’s always room for improvement, and Finnish hospitals are open for it, as shown by the latest technologically operated rehabilitation experiments based on virtual reality games. Distant monitoring and distant data collection are part of basic routines in the care of recovering senior citizens. Large-scale medical experiments in Finland have a very good participation rate and they benefit from excessive data records available from all Finnish citizens. All of this is possible due to the high penetration rate of technologies and positive attitude towards improvement and modern medical experiments in the elderly Finns.
Finland, in collaboration with its international partners, is producing both medical research data and technological advancements to the world-class problems of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, dementia and diabetes. These innovations shape the future for all elderly citizens, not only in Finland but all over the world. Development that is visible in Finland right now is hopefully seen more widely in the future. That’s why it is good to be an elderly citizen in Finland.
Minna Huotilainen (Ph.D.)
Docent of cognitive science
University of Helsinki, Cognitive Brain Research Unit