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Wine Around the World 2016: Italy

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.



by Patti Digh

Italy is second only to Japan in its proportion of seniors in the general population, so the country is having to cope with growing demands for long-term care while managing issues related to the health, social exclusion, poverty, and technological needs of the aging population. In fact, Italy has the largest proportion of elderly population in Europe. Italy’s Genoa is the oldest city in Europe, with 33% of the population being over 60.

Similar to most European countries, this is linked to the fertility fluctuation that occurred during the second half of the 20th century: the baby boom cohort (born between 1945 and 1964) is progressively reaching the old age, and it will continue up to the 2030s, whereas the baby bust cohort (born between the early 1960s and 1975) now constitutes the bulk of the working age population. This circumstance will lead to a top-heavy age structure, and is expected to last about 30 years, after which the end of the baby bust generation will enter old age.

To accommodate the needs of this aging population, two systems have evolved: formal care provision, which provides in-kind home and residential services and cash-for-care financing to informal caregivers. The second is the informal network comprised of family, volunteers, friends, and neighbors. This second system is possible in part because so few women between the ages of 55-64 are in the formal workforce.

In Italy’s cash-for-care scheme, a dependent person receives a care allowance from the state and, in many municipalities, this is supplemented with a means tested additional 300-500 euros per month for those over the age of 65. This has encouraged hiring private help to assist with activities of daily living.

A large number of those hired are immigrants employed to supplement the family’s support or cohabitate with the client. The wage differential and reduced costs of living for resident home care workers also provides economic incentives for immigrants. However, this quasi-underground system raises several concerns. First is the inability to maintain standards of care, particularly when the workforce lacks accreditation. Second is the concern that families or senior clients may exploit immigrant home care workers. Third, these workers often work in isolation from their families and communities for prolonged periods of times, which raises concerns for their mental health.

To accommodate this migrant workforce, Italy has undertaken a series of legal and policy reforms to formalize the system. Illegal migrants now have the means to gain legitimate workers’ status. Fiscal incentives have been introduced to discourage households from employing undeclared workers. Starting in 2007, domestic workers now sign contracts to reduce the potential for employer abuse. Finally, training and accreditation programs for migrant workers have been developed by local municipalities to raise the workforce’s skillset. At the same time, stricter controls for access to cash-for-care allowances for seniors are now in place.

A recent survey found that high proportions of adults in Italy (70 percent) help their aging parents with basic tasks, such as running errands, housework or home repairs, compared with people in the United States (58 percent). But Americans were more likely to offer financial support to aging parents: 28 percent of U.S. adult children have given financial support to a parent who is 65 or older, compared with 20 percent in Italy. Italians were also much more likely to provide hands-on care. In Italy, 26 percent reported providing personal care, compared with 14 percent in the United States.
The study also found that in both the U.S and Italy, people said they were more likely to have helped an adult child financially in the preceding 12 months than an aging parent. In the United States, 61 percent of people with at least one adult child said they helped with financial support, compared with 60 percent in Italy. Among its other findings, the survey says that people in both Italy and the U.S. who are 65 or older preferred to grow older in their homes, a concept known as aging in place.

Aging Around the World: Italy

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.


“Using their collective experience, their moral courage and their ability to rise above the parochial concerns of nation, race and creed, they can help make our planet a more peaceful, healthy and equitable place to live. Let us call them Global Elders, not because of their age, but because of their individual and collective wisdom. We call this the spirit of Ubuntu – that profound African sense that we are human only through the humanity of other human beings.”
– Nelson Mandela, Founder, The Elders

What if we didn’t have a “needs­-based” perspective of aging, but a “resource­-based” view of it instead? What if society more often celebrated the achievements of the elderly and applauded them for their unique accomplishments than they decried the “costs” of an aging population? At 99, Miczyslaw Horszowski, a classical pianist, recorded a new album; at 91, Hilda Crooks climbed Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the United States; and at 91, Lucille Borgen won the National Water Ski title. These elderly may be labeled as “over achievers;” however, they are examples of Active Aging – people who are successful, positive, and experiencing a high quality of life in their aging years. Aging is not a disease, or a problem; rather, it is an inevitability, and a privilege, given how many around us die far too young.


WAW-Italy-blogpostThe major backbones supporting activity in the elderly must be reinforced by the culture of that society, and the policies and the political support as witnessed in societies with a large aging population, such as Italy. Italy’s elderly population continues to be productive and active as its country’s policies and environmental infrastructure fosters and “supports at the individual level the variability, plasticity, and modifiability of the elderly.”

This approach is obviously not taken in many other Western nations and, interestingly, in Italy “Active Aging” is considered to start in childhood, encompassing everyone in society. For the Italians, addressed when a person gets to be sixty­-four, but must be considered when they are in their twenties and thirties, since their activities at that point will likely mirror their involvement in those same activities when they are in their sixties. Successful aging in Italy is a multidisciplinary, multigenerational collaboration.

Italy has one of the longest life expectancy rates in the world, about 84.5 years, with 20.8% of its population, aged 65 and over. It is vital, then, that this country do what it can to keep the elderly healthy and contributing to society.

The World Health Organization Aging and Life Course Programme has defined “Active Aging” as “the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.”  “Active Aging” is not only keeping Italy’s elderly populations fit, but also supporting and nurturing an environment that empowers an aging individual with educational and volunteering opportunities to remain an active member of society.

How does the Council on Aging for Henderson County reflect the value Italy places on “Active Aging”? By providing members of “Lunch at the Sammy” (our congregate nutrition program at the Sammy Williams Center) with weekly yoga and balance classes, we provide options for healthy & active aging.