Education And Debate

Medicine in Europe: The greying of Europe

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 12 November 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:1282
  1. J L C Dall
  1. Victoria Infirmary National Health Trust, Glasgow G42 9TT.

    About a quarter of the population of Europe is now of pensionable age. Facilities for caring for very old or disabled people differ throughout Europe in scope and means of funding, and the countries of the European Union are far from equity in the status of pensioners. Health expectations have increased in older people - most of the calculated gain in life expectancy is likely to be without disability. Most countries now have specialist geriatric medicine facilities, and international research programmes are under way.

    The most striking feature of the last century may well be the change in the shape of populations. In the early years of the twentieth century, when the old age pension was initiated and made available to those reaching a retirement age of 65 years in several countries of Europe, around 5% of the populations of these countries was eligible. Now roughly a quarter of the population of Europe is of pensionable age.

    One factor in this change is the reduction in the number of children and consequently the relative increase in the number of older people - this helps to explain why Mediterranean countries have taken longer to reach this stage than has northern Europe. Figure 1 shows that there will be a substantial percentage increase in each age decade. Some of this is due to an improvement in life expectancy as well as a reduction in the number of children. A child born now can expect to live 10 years longer than one born in 1950 and 25 years longer than one born at the beginning of this century.1

    The European Year of Older People and Solidarity Between the Generations (1993) was intended to highlight the challenge an aging population presents to society and to encourage an exchange of ideas which collectively might …

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