Aging Around the World: Spain

by Patti Digh, Council on Aging for Henderson County Board Member

In this series, we are exploring the norms around aging in each of the countries that will be represented at our Wine Around the World event on October 22, 2015. There are only a handful of tickets left, but they’re going fast. Tickets can be purchased at our office or online here: coa.eventbrite.


What if we are all wrong about the brains of older adults? Cognitive neuroscience, a subfield of psychology that incorporates methods from neuroscience, uses measures of brain activity to understand human thought. The emphasis is on how the brain shapes behavior.

Using cognitive neuroscience methods to study aging has unexpectedly revealed that aging brains remain somewhat malleable and plastic. Plasticity refers to the ability to flexibly recruit different areas of the brain to do different jobs.

In contrast to the earlier, largely pessimistic view of aging, neuro­ imaging studies suggest aging brains can reorganize and change, and not necessarily for the worse. Social and emotional abilities are relatively well ­preserved with age, it seems, suggesting that brain regions underlying these abilities may not exhibit the same downward trajectory with age as those associated with cognitive abilities. These brain areas may show different patterns of reorganization and change.


WAW-Spain-blogpostAs it emerges from tough economic times, Spain must confront the challenge of adequately managing the health and well-being of its older citizens in the face of rising medical costs, limited economic growth and changing social and family dynamics.

Along with other countries in Europe, Spain’s population is graying after decades of falling birth rates. Nearly one ­quarter (24%) of Spain’s population was 60 or older in 2013, a percentage that is expected to rise to four in 10 (40%) by 2050.

Purpose Well­Being

  • You like what you do every day
  • You learn or do something interesting every day

Social Well­Being

  • Someone in your life always encourages you to be healthy
  • Your friends and family give you positive energy every day

Financial Well­Being

  • You have enough money to do everything you want to do
  • In the last seven days, you haven’t worried about money

Community Well­Being

  • The city or area where you live is a perfect place for you.
  • In the last 12 months, you have received recognition for helping to improve the city or area where you live.

Physical Well­Being

  • In the last seven days, you have felt active and productive every day
  • Your physical health is near ­perfect

Social well­being appears to be the key to improving health outcomes for older people in Spain, based on findings from the Gallup­ Healthways Global Well­Being Index. For example, Spaniards who are thriving in social well­being are 45% more likely to evaluate their overall lives highly. These effects extend to physical well­being ­­ those who are thriving in social well­being are more than twice as likely to be thriving in physical well­being as those who are not.

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

How is Spain hoping to increase social well-being among older Spaniards?

  • Local and community outreach programs designed to promote health and prevent illness, such as a diabetes care program
  • Programs that emphasize regularly checking in on and interacting with elderly residents and ensuring their wellbeing needs are met
  • Meal delivery or preparation assistance to ensure proper nutritional intake among older Spaniards
  • Help with managing tasks such as home maintenance, cleaning and shopping
  • Improvements in information, transparency, monitoring and evaluation of services
  • Alternatives to traditional hospitalization such as home care for less acute conditions
  • Strategies to reduce inequalities in healthcare, including outreach to poorer communities and populations who are less likely to receive care

How is the work of the Council on Aging for Henderson County in alignment with this framework of improving social well­being in the aging? Through our “Lunch at the Sammy” program, we provide a place for the older adults of Henderson County to socialize and grow a community. Our Meals on Wheels volunteers, don’t just deliver a meal. Our volunteers are a friendly face at the door, 5 days a week, our clients can count on.

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