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Care for older people is a family affair in the Nordic countries


Study in Iceland found that while the country still has a generous public aged care policy, many older people receive help from their families

t has been a fundamental right in Nordic countries for decades: older people facing their twilight years in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden know that both their health and social care will be completely financed by the state.

But research of people aged 65 and over in Iceland has found that despite the promise of their care costs being picked up by the taxpayer, many older people struggling with basic household tasks are being helped by their families instead.

“The majority of people interviewed received either informal care from family or formal care, but not both. Informal help plays an important role in supporting older people to live as long as possible in their homes,” says Sigurveig Sigurdardottir, co-author of the study and associate professor at Iceland University faculty of social work. “Family has always been important in Iceland.”

She believes in the future there will be more private and less public care.

Of the 782 people who took part in the survey, 94% had children, with 85% having children living within 25km. Six-in-10 had difficulties with basic household tasks; 54% of whom relied on help from family, while only 22% received formal care support.

Former social worker Sigurdardottir says the pressing issue today, because of increasing demand for services is “whether to provide existing formal services to those with more severe needs, instead of providing more limited help to the many”.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, says the UK experience of rising thresholds for care highlight the importance of helping those who provide informal support: “I’m not surprised by the Icelandic findings. We know there’s a strong tradition of informal care in the Nordic states, even when statutory care is available.

“In the UK, families play a huge part in care. It is important that once they start helping they don’t get taken for granted and get the right support.”


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