Photo: Moa Karlberg/imagebank.sweden.se
Elderly care in Sweden
Sweden’s population is ageing, so providing good elderly care becomes increasingly important. Many elderly Swedes are in good health and most live in their own homes, but the country is preparing for a future where one in four Swedes is 65 years or older.
A challenge for our future
Health and social care for the elderly are important parts of Swedish welfare policy. Of Sweden’s 10 million inhabitants, 20 per cent have passed the standard retirement age of 65. This number is projected to rise to 23 per cent by 2040, partly because of the large number of Swedes born in the 1940s.
Largely funded by taxes
Life expectancy in Sweden is among the highest in the world: 81 years for men and 84 years for women. Around 5.2 per cent of Sweden’s population are aged 80 or older, according to the most recent statistics which covered 2019. Since more and more citizens in this age group are in good health, their care requirements have declined since the 1980s.
Most elderly care is funded by municipal taxes and government grants. In 2017, the total cost of elderly care in Sweden was SEK 121.7 billion (USD 13 billion, EUR 11.6 billion). Healthcare costs paid by the elderly themselves are subsidised and based on specified rate schedules.
Public or private
More municipalities are choosing to privatise parts of their elderly care, letting private care providers run their operations. In 2018, private care provided services for 23 per cent of all elderly people getting home help. All recipients can choose whether they want their home help or special housing to be provided by public or private operators. The municipality always has overall responsibility, however, for areas such as funding and allocating home help or a place in a special housing facility.
The number of private companies in the social service sector increased fivefold between 1995 and 2005. Over the years, media investigations have unearthed shortfalls among several private care companies. In subsequent criticism, the companies were accused of letting profit have a negative impact on the standard of care.
Home help makes life easier
One of the aims of elderly care is to help elderly people and those with disabilities live normal, independent lives. This includes living in their own homes as long as possible.
Elderly people who continue to live at home can obtain various kinds of support to make life easier. For example, almost all municipalities in Sweden offer ready-cooked meals that can be home-delivered.
In 2019, home help staff assisted around 170,000 people aged 65 or over. Almost half of the country’s municipalities also provide communal meals for the elderly at special day centers, while a few organise small groups of elderly people into teams that cook their own meals.
Around the clock
When an elderly person is no longer able to cope with the demands of everyday life, he or she can apply for assistance from municipally funded home-help services. The extent of such care is subject to an assessment of need. Elderly people with disabilities can receive assistance around the clock, which means that many are able to remain at home throughout their lives. The severely ill, too, can be provided with health and social care in their own homes.
Each municipality decides its own rates for elderly care. The cost depends on such factors as the level or type of help provided and the person’s income. The maximum charge for home help, daytime activities and certain other kinds of care is SEK 2,125 per month (2020).
Municipalities offer daytime activities for elderly and disabled people in need of stimulation and rehabilitation. These activities primarily target those with dementia or mental disabilities. Daytime activities help many to continue to live in their homes.
The elderly and disabled also qualify for transportation services in taxis or specially adapted vehicles. This option is available to those who are unable to travel by regular public transport.
The Swedish pension system
All Swedish citizens are entitled to a national retirement pension after they retire. People can choose to start receiving their pension between the ages of 61 and 67.
From 2005 to 2014, the number of working Swedes aged 65–74 increased by as much as 127 per cent. The average retirement age today is 64.5 (2018).
There are several different sources that make up a Swedish pension. People who have worked and lived in Sweden will get a national retirement pension based on the income on which they have paid tax. The national retirement pension consists of income pension, premium pension and guarantee pension.
The average national retirement pension in January 2020 was SEK 13,000 per month. In addition to the national retirement pension, most people employed in Sweden also get an occupational pension, based on contributions made by their employers.
Altogether, around 70 per cent of pensioners’ total income derives from the public pension system. For added security, many choose to supplement their retirement benefits with private pension savings.
Preparations for an ageing population
Like many other countries, Sweden has a growing proportion of elderly people. Elderly care has therefore become increasingly important, and the government has taken steps to meet future challenges in this area.
In 2040, nearly one in four Swedes will be 65 years or older, and most of the people in this age group will be active and healthy. Several initiatives aimed at meeting future needs are now being put in place around the country. In a 2013 report, the government-appointed Commission on the Future identified a series of challenges that Sweden may be confronted with, including the country’s ageing population.
To meet the coming demographic challenge without jeopardising welfare levels, people will have to work longer. Another report from 2013 suggests a number of measures enabling people to prolong their working life, such as that the earliest age at which people can draw their old age pension should be raised from 61 to 62 and, later, 63.
Preventive care keeps older people healthier
Several new forms of effective preventive healthcare for the elderly have been introduced in recent years, and are attracting increasing levels of interest.
One example is physical activity on prescription, both for preventive purposes and as a form of treatment. Older people are prescribed not just exercise in general but a certain type of physical activity, sometimes in combination with medication, with doctors monitoring the results.
Personal injury is one of the main health problems among older people, so considerable efforts are made to reduce injuries from falls. Information is made available to the elderly, and special municipal ‘fixers’ help with things like curtain-hanging and changing light bulbs in the home.
Stimulation through music, films, reading, painting and other cultural activities also plays a role in well-being. This is increasingly recognised in elderly care homes where many people engage in at least one such activity every day.
Last updated: 3 July 2020