With a growing older population worldwide and frequent complaints in the media about the inadequacy of services for older people in the UK, it begs the question where are the world's best places to grow old in?
Sweden has been ranked the number one country for older people to live in according to the most recent Global Age Watch Index. Norway and Germany are next in line, with the UK ranking well behind at number thirteen. The least favoured countries for the elderly are Pakistan and Tanzania with Afghanistan ranking last.
The purpose of the index is to enable countries to compare themselves with others and to encourage them to improve facilities, services and welfare for older people in their own country, following the lead of countries who achieve a higher ranking.
Sweden has the highest level of spending on state pensions, five times higher per capita than the average pension spend in EU countries, although this is just one of several aspects assessed in the ranking. Other factors considered are health status, an enabling environment (covering safety, public transport, social opportunities), and employment and education.
One of the aspects on which the UK scored poorly was the transport of an enabling environment with inadequate bus and train transport in rural areas, but it was employment and education ranking which let the UK down the most, with a ranking of 24, in stark contrast with the number 2 ranking for the US.
The study ranked the US at number eight of the best countries to live in for older people, ahead of the United Kingdom, Iceland, and Japan. The US scored particularly well on employment and education because it tends to have a less ageist attitude in the workplace and older people are often more welcome to continue working into old age. In the years approaching retirement age, people are still able to access training and development so they can continue to grow and compete with younger members of the workforce.
Within the US, a separate study by the United Health Foundation recently assessed which states are the healthiest to live in. Minnesota was found to be the best US state for older people to live in, closely followed by Hawaii and New Hampshire whilst Mississippi came last. High numbers of healthcare workers, good dental care, food security and quality of nursing homes were just some of the areas assessed in the report.
Ultimately the criteria for finding the best place to live are a matter of personal choice, and few people will emigrate on the basis of these studies. However these comparison studies can be useful in highlighting good and bad practice in care and facilities for older people, and may encourage countries to aim for higher standards of welfare for their own older population.