Spaniards believe social well-being is crucial for healthy aging

Spain is known for having one of the best national healthcare systems in the world. But that may change thanks to the global financial collapse.…

Senior citizens socialize in the streets of Madrid. Spaniards believe social wellbeing is crucial to healthy aging? (Shutterstock)

Spain is known for having one of the best national healthcare systems in the world. But that may change thanks to the global financial collapse.

Spain now struggles everyday with budget cuts amongst a weakened economy whose growth is stunted. Medical costs are increasing, not to mention the modern world is bringing with it a vast change in social and family dynamics.

This couldn’t have come at a worse time. Demand for health care is especially prevalent in a country that sports such a disproportionate aging population.

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Nearly 25% of Spain’s population was 60 or older in 2013 and it is estimated that by 2050, it will increase to 40%.

In contrast, the percentage of Spaniards aged 15 to 59 is projected to fall from about two-thirds of the population (62%) in 2013 to less than half (46%) in 2050, according to Gallup.

When there are such proportions of older and younger individuals, the older Spaniards put more strain on the healthcare system because they typically use the healthcare system more frequently than any other age group.

At the same time there are fewer working-aged people to help pay for all those expenses.

The population of Spaniards under the age of  15 to 59 will go under the half way mark by 2050.

The population of Spaniards under the age of 15 to 59 will go under the half way mark by 2050. (Chart from UN World Population Prospects)

Gallup and Healthways have figured out that if efforts are made to target a population’s well-being outside of the healthcare system, they are more likely to lead a higher quality of life and reduce healthcare costs, particularly among older people.

They found that one in three Spaniards (35%) under age 45 are thriving in physical well-being, significantly higher than the roughly one in four (23%) of those aged 45 or older, according to the State of Global Well-Being report.

In social well-being, those 45 years or older are significantly more likely to be suffering, compared with those under the age of 45.

The report concluded that the key to improving health outcomes for older people in Spain seems to be social well-being.

Spaniards who are thriving in social well-being are 45% more likely to evaluate their overall lives highly and more than twice as likely to be thriving in physical well-being as those who are not.

Individuals who are not thriving in social well-being, on the other hand, are 30% more likely to say that they experienced stress yesterday.

Older Spaniards are more likely to be thriving in social well-being rather than physical.

Older Spaniards are more likely to be thriving in social well-being rather than physical. (Chart from UN World Population Prospects)

For those of you unaware of the Spanish family dynamic, younger family members used to play a strong role in taking care of their parents or older relatives and thus sustaining the health of older residents in Spanish society.

But that dynamic is no longer efficient for a few reasons. For one, years of declining fertility rates means there are fewer children around to look after elderly parents.

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Second, the weakened economy has forced some adult children to relocate away from aging parents to find work.

And third, in the instance that the younger generation can’t find work, retirees find themselves supporting unemployed children and grandchildren with their pension or savings.

So what can be done? Well, health providers and policymakers in Spain are working to keep the elderly healthy and healthcare costs down by sustaining or increasing their well-being, not just their physical health.

Helping the elderly out, even if it's just with small tasks like things around the house, can improve their mood and overall well-being.

Helping the elderly out, even if it’s just with small tasks like things around the house, can improve their mood and overall well-being. (Shutterstock)

For example, instead of sticking your grandparents in an expensive, around-the-clock care facility, you could encourage them to live independently or semi-autonomously.

SEE ALSO: Will we soon have a real anti-aging treatment?

Get them involved in local and community outreach programs designed to promote health and prevent illness, such as a diabetes care program, meal delivery or preparation assistance, help with tasks such as home maintenance, cleaning and shopping, just to name a few.

People with higher well-being are healthier, more productive and more resilient in changing times, according to the study. So it looks like Spain might be well-equipped enough to confront the challenges ahead after all.