Society for elderly people

Last updated: 2/2-2023

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This text is about living as an elderly person in Swedish society. It describes Swedish care for the elderly and the kind of help you can get when you grow old.

An illustrated collage with elderly people walking, dancing, sitting in front of a computer, and eating in sheltered accommodation.

The text also talks about the importance of having good friends, looking after one’s health and other things that are important for a good and long life.

You are entitled to a good life throughout your life. You are entitled not to suffer discrimination because of your age. You are also entitled to good health. You are entitled to social interaction, to an income and to security, regardless of how old you are. You are entitled to participate in society and to feel that you are in control of your life.

In Sweden, a healthy older person can live an active and meaningful life for many years.

Just as during other periods in your life, support and help are available when you grow old. This is known as care for the elderly and is part of the Swedish welfare state.

Elderly care

Example: Anna gets help with everyday things

Anna, who is 75, says: "I’ve always liked managing on my own, even if my children have helped me a lot in various ways. Now that I’ve grown old I need help with practical everyday things much more often. Both my daughter, Sara, and my son, Adil, work a lot. They have families of their own and haven’t got time to help me with everything. But in Sweden there’s a law which says that elderly people who need support and help have the right to get it from the public services. And I think that’s really good! My children visit me as often as they can, and help me when they have time. We speak on the phone nearly every day”.

All societies look after their elderly, but this can be done in various ways. In many countries, it is the immediate family that looks after its elderly members, and it is common for parents to move in with their children and grandchildren when the need for mutual help increases. In other countries, such as Sweden, the state and municipalities have much of the responsibility for ensuring that elderly people get the help they need. These things are governed by the Social Services Act (Socialtjänstlagen). In Sweden it is unusual for adults to be living together with their parents.

Do you know how these things work in the country or countries where you lived previously?

Accommodation for the elderly and home help

When you become elderly, you can apply for support with everyday tasks from the municipality. You get help with shopping, cleaning, cooking and using the toilet, for example. These are known as home-help services and mean that someone comes to help you in your own home.

If you need more help and are unable to continue living in your own home, special accommodation for elderly people is available for you to move to. Some types of accommodation have staff around the clock and are called "äldreboenden", or sheltered accommodation for the elderly. In most cases, all of the people living there have their own rooms or flats, but those who want to can socialise with each other. There are rooms for socialising and for watching TV, reading, listening to music and much else. Staff in sheltered accommodation and home help services are both women and men.

The text describes different types of accommodation and support for elderly people. How do you think you would like your accommodation to be when you grow old?

What kind of support would you like to get?

Elderly care brings a sense of security

In accommodation for the elderly, you will not be living alone, which provides a sense of security for you as well as for your family.

In Sweden it is common for both men and women to work, which can make it difficult to find the time to look after your parents as well. If you have elderly parents who live in sheltered accommodation or have home help, you know that they will get food, medication and the help they need every day. Having your parents in sheltered accommodation does not mean that you abandon them. You can visit them and they can visit you.

You have rights throughout your life, and you are entitled to get help in exercising them. Special accommodation and home help services are only two examples of help you can get when you grow old. Other examples include "färdtjänst" (municipal transport services), travel assistants, social alarm devices and assistive devices, etc. If you need assistive devices such as a walking frame, contact your local medical care centre.

If you want to know more about elderly care or would like to apply, contact your municipality – usually the social services.

Health and ageing

Example: Hanna and Rosa are elderly and live alone

Hanna lives alone. She finds it boring cooking just for her, so she often buys ready meals. She has problems sleeping and is often tired during the day. Her doctor has told her that she should stop smoking, but it is not easy, as she has smoked for so many years. Hanna does not have the energy to get together with friends as often as she would like. She often stays at home watching TV in the evenings. When she has to do errands, she takes the bus or her car.

Rosa also lives alone. She takes a long walk every day because falling asleep at night is so pleasant when your body is tired and you've had lots of fresh air. When Rosa wakes up she almost always feels rested and alert. During the day she meets and spends time with friends. They usually meet in the library. Sometimes they cook meals together – always with a lot of vegetables and sometimes fully vegetarian.

Life changes as you grow older. You notice this in different ways, the clearest of which is that your body changes. When you grow old, your body and your mind do not work the same way they did when you were younger. Your muscles are not as strong, your sense of balance is weaker, and your memory not as good. It can feel difficult to notice these things happening, and it can be difficult to think about ageing. But you can have an influence on these changes. You can even delay them. By exercising both your body and your mind you can stay healthy and spry longer.

Old age can be a very enjoyable period of life. You are no longer working and can decide for yourself what you are going to do with your days. But in order to be able to lead an active life, it is important that you maintain good health.

Health works a bit like a savings account. If you deposit money in it regularly, you will have more of it to spend when you grow old. That is why it is important to take care of your health throughout your life.

A healthy lifestyle

It is important to remember that you can influence your health throughout your life. It is never too late to switch to a healthier diet or start exercising. Strength training is good for all ages and can be done at home. Outdoor walks are also very good – preferably in the daytime so you get sunlight as well. Sunlight makes you feel better physically and mentally. Exercising until you get out of breath improves your fitness and endurance. Fitness training is good for your heart, but also important for your brain. If you do regular fitness training, you will sleep better, improve your memory and your ability to concentrate, and get a range of other benefits as well. The brain wants to learn new things throughout life, and there are many ways to do that. You can read, for instance, or join an association or play an instrument.

What is the most important thing you should do today in order to remain healthy late into life?

Family and friends

Not only your body and your mind change when you grow older. Your social life can also change. Family and friends are an important part of life.

Many elderly people feel lonely. There can be many reasons why they do. They may have lost friends or their life partner. They may have difficulties walking or an illness that makes it difficult to be active in society. No longer working is another big change, and not meeting your colleagues every day can make you feel lonely. It is therefore important to have friends that you can spend time with when you retire. Retiring means that you stop working. In Sweden, people typically retire at the age of 65.

Once you have stopped working you may also feel as if you are no longer needed. One way of meeting other people and continuing to contribute to society is to join an association of some kind. There are many associations that arrange activities for elderly people. One such association is the National Organisation of Pensioners (Pensionärernas Riksorganisation, PRO).

Mental ill health

Mental ill health, such as anxiety and depression, is common among elderly people. But not everyone seeks help, which means they get no treatment for their condition. One reason for this is that mental ill health is often seen as a natural part of ageing, which it is not.

Being ill or dependent on others can increase the risk of being subjected to violence. Elderly men as well as women may be subjected to violence, but women are more vulnerable. They can be subjected to violence both because they are elderly and because they are women. Violence can occur in all types of relationships. The person perpetrating the violence is usually someone in the person's immediate circle. Everyone who is subjected to violence is entitled to support and help from public services. It makes no difference whether you are young or old.

You are entitled to the best possible physical and mental health, both as a young and an old person. You are entitled to feel well, sleep well, eat well and to feel that you participate in society even when you grow older and no longer work.

We are living longer

People live long lives in Sweden. Many lead an active life for many years after their retirement. The average lifespan in Sweden is 82 years for the entire population. For women it is around 84, and for men its is 80.

What do you think the average lifespan is in the country or countries where you lived previously?

Transport and travel for elderly people

In many municipalities, elderly people pay less or nothing at all for bus, tram, train and metro tickets – at least during certain periods of the day.

Many municipalities also have specific public transport for elderly people. This is usually referred to as "flextrafiken", or flexible transport. The buses used are smaller than normal buses and can get closer to your home. They have lowered floors so that people using walking frames or wheelchairs can board them more easily. Contact your municipality for more information about how you can use flexible transport where you live.

Elderly people who have mobility difficulties can also request "färdtjänst" travel services. If you order färdtjänst, a taxi comes to take you where you are going. These trips are usually a bit more expensive than public transport, but much cheaper than a normal taxi fare. In order to have access to färdtjänst, you have to apply for it from your municipality. You also have to provide a certificate from a doctor to verify that you are unable to use public transport.

Possibilities through the internet

Two elderly people seated at a table in front of a computer.

Example: Fouad learned how to use the internet

Fouad, 69: "I worked in a factory all my life and never used a computer in my job. When I retired, I didn't have a computer at home. I have pains in my knees which makes it difficult for me to get out and about. After I stopped working, I began to feel lonely. Then, two years ago, my daughter bought me a computer and I took a beginner's course in using computers arranged by the municipality. I made new friends that I'm in touch with almost every day. I've also got back in touch with friends and relatives in Lebanon. We have video calls because it's so great to be able to see each other".

Fouad's case is not unique. In all, 6 % of Sweden's population rarely or never use the internet. That is more than 600,000 people. Most of them are 65 or older. Many of them would like to use the internet more than they do – some are unable to do so because they have a functional impairment that prevents them. Others do not know how.

Things do not need to be that way. There are many possibilities with the internet. Besides keeping in touch with friends, you can take care of many errands online. You can pay bills, order tickets and even see a doctor from home with the help of a computer or a smartphone. Until now, it has been relatively easy to manage without the internet, but more and more public services are becoming digital and moving online. Government agencies have to make sure that everyone can understand their websites and use their digital services. But you also have a responsibility to try to learn how to use them. You can always contact the agency if there is anything you do not understand.

There are people who use the internet to deceive people and commit crimes. You must never give your personal codes or account numbers to strangers or do anything that does not feel entirely secure. There is a method for doing transactions and getting services online in a secure way – it is known as "e-legitimation" or e-ID. Using an e-ID, you can prove your identity digitally and therefore do bank transactions, for instance, online. You also need to have an e-ID in order to do certain things on the websites of some government agencies, such as Försäkringskassan. You can speak to your bank about getting an e-ID – one example of an e-ID is BankID. Do not log on to your e-ID if someone contacts you via the phone or social media and asks you to.

Many people find the internet difficult to deal with. You can always ask someone you know to show you how. Or you can attend a course – municipalities usually offer beginner courses in using digital devices like the one Fouad took. Sometimes there are courses specially for elderly people, which are usually free of charge. Usually, you will also find computers with internet connections in your local library that you can use. Contact your municipality and ask them what your options are.