Wine Around the World 2016: France

This series of blog posts by author Patti Digh will focus on issues of aging in the countries whose wines we will taste at our Wine Around the World event on October 6, 2016. There are a limited number of tickets left. Don’t miss this unforgettable event! Purchase online or stop by our office at 105 King Creek Blvd, Hendersonville, NC.

TRAGEDY IN FRANCE SPURS NATIONAL REFORM FOR THE ELDERLY

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Connected homes, communities, and cities are essential to creating age-friendly environments; and adapting housing is a first step in a “prevention approach” that ensures the health and wellbeing of older people in their homes. In Europe, communities are looking at housing solutions that safeguard the needs of older adults and also provide housing and services in a new way.

In the region of Aquitaine, France, a local initiative finances home modifications for older people on lower incomes. In partnership with a housing organization, pension funds, and insurance companies, the initiative renovates existing housing to the meet the needs of older residents, at an average cost of 7,000 euros (9,100 dollars). In the city of Boé in that region, they are adapting residential parks for ease of mobility and access to urban transport systems.

These kinds of changes are necessary because the population aged 65 and older is rapidly growing in France. In the mid-2000s, about 16% of their population was 65 and older. The share of the French population 65 and older will reach about 25% in 2030 and nearly 30% in 2050. The sheer demographic weight of people aged 85 and older will rise even faster, increasing from about 1 million people in the mid-2000s to about 2.5 million in 2030. Finally, over the same period, the number of centennials will likely quadruple, rising from about 15,000 to 60,000.

One of the main factors in this aging trend is the decline in fertility. Like most other advanced industrial countries, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, France witnessed a steep decline in the total fertility rate, though it has since stabilized. The long-standing French tradition of family-friendly public policy and, more recently, improvements to child care and family benefits that facilitate work–family balance are likely to explain this increase in fertility. Even so, France’s fertility rate still remains lower than the net reproduction rate and contributes to population aging in that country.

An increase in life expectancy is the other major factor in population aging. From 1800 to 1900 in France, the average life expectancy rose from 30 to about 45 years. In 2004, the average life expectancy reached 80 years. One key piece of demographic information that is missing concerns the growing ethnic diversity of the older population. This question is difficult in France, in part because French census questions do not refer to ethnicity or “race,” a situation related to a strong political opposition against “ethnic statistics,” as they are known in France, which derives from the universalistic, “color blind” political culture at the core of the French Republican model. But as many researchers know, aging is not a “color blind” experience, and knowledge about this reality can have direct policy implications.

A 2003 heat wave created a major political shock-wave in France, as it resulted in the death of 15,000 older persons. Limited access to air conditioning, as well as urban pollution, social isolation, and a lack of experience in handling such heat waves, led to dehydration and excessive sun exposure, which largely accounted for the high number of casualties. This traumatic episode helped push aging onto the policy agenda.

As a result, the French government launched an ambitious Aging and Solidarity Plan, granting massive investments for the construction or renovation of nursing homes as well as the development of new long-term care services. Other French policy initiatives included a national campaign against elder abuse and the “Bien Vieillir” (Age Well) National Plan, to promote healthy aging among people aged 55–75. A 5-year Alzheimer Plan was launched to support research, improve care, and both inform and mobilize citizens regarding this issue. Other public health initiatives launched that can directly affect older people, without necessarily targeting them directly. These initiatives include a plan against pain (Plan Douleur), a plan for palliative care, and a plan for suicide prevention.

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