Health economists: Unclear how welfare technology affects the quality of life of the elderly

Swedish elderly care has undergone significant changes in recent years and is now being developed using new welfare technologies. But is this in line with what the elderly want? Without properly analyzing what the elderly want, this development risks reducing their quality of life, according to researchers Sara Olofsson and Ulf Persson in a new SNS report.

Measuring the value of elderly care, English summary 57.9 KB PDF

During the last 15–20 years, elderly care has been transformed extensively. Homecare services in people’s own homes have become much more common, whereas the proportion of people living in nursing homes has been cut in half. In addition, welfare technology tools such as camera surveillance and drug dispensing robots are now being introduced. For example, three out of four municipalities now use digital nighttime surveillance for elderly people in their homecare services.

These changes are justified by arguments such as that more people should be independent and able to stay in their own homes. In Sweden, however, the existing methods used for identifying which types of elderly care current and future recipients want are not utilized. Hence, there is a risk that elderly care will change in a way that reduces the well-being of the elderly.

“The costs related to elderly care are expected to rise as the proportion of elderly people increases. At the same time, municipalities have limited funds, and the time needed for providing care can only be reduced so much. This will probably require further changes in elderly care. If so, it is important that we know what the elderly value, so that these changes do not reduce their quality of life,” says Sara Olofsson, research director at the Swedish Institute for Health Economics (IHE).

In the SNS report Measuring the Value of Elderly Care, she and her research colleague Ulf Persson point out that there are only a few studies on the quality of life among Swedish elderly care recipients. However, the studies having been carried out do raise some questions. For example, many elderly people assign great value to interacting with staff that they already know, which has become less common in recent years Many elderly people also want customized housing even in cases of minor disabilities. What does this tell us about the principle that elderly people as far as possible should remain and receive care in their own home?

“Trends in elderly care appear to reduce the quality of life of the recipients. That is why it is important to get a clear picture of what affects their well-being. We recommend that the current situation is analyzed by using methods already in use in other countries and then take into account the experiences of the elderly in future development efforts. For example, it is unclear what they think about the welfare technologies now being introduced in large segments of elderly care,” says Ulf Persson, senior advisor at IHE.

About the authors

Sara Olofsson has a PhD in health economics and works as a research director at the Swedish Institute for Health Economics.

Ulf Persson is a professor of health economics and a senior advisor at the Swedish Institute for Health Economics.