While we’re living longer, not everyone is living healthier and happier lives – and many countries are struggling to look after an increasingly lonely, ageing population.

By 2050, it’s predicted that more than a quarter of people in France (20 million) will be aged 65 and over, as women are expected to live to 90 and men to 87.

But the country has come up with a unique way of catering to the needs of its elderly, while enabling them to remain living in their own homes.

Image: Insee

Mail workers for the French postal service La Poste are being paid to pop in on elderly people on a weekly basis, before sending updates to concerned relatives.

Called Veiller Sur Mes Parents (watch over my parents), the service costs from 19.90 euros ($22.50) a month and includes a weekly visit and report, as well as a monthly personalized newsletter made from family messages and photos the post worker prints out.

There’s also a 24-hour helpline available as part of a second, more expensive package.

Solving two problems

The service started in May 2017 as a way of tackling two issues: an annual drop of 5% in the amount of mail meaning less work for France’s 73,000 postal workers, and the rise of the ageing population.

But the idea came about following a heatwave.

“We first thought of it a few years ago when city halls called on us to pay a visit to the elderly during a heatwave,” Eric Baudrillard, customer services director at La Poste told Vice News. “They were worried and asked us to check if everything was OK with the old people. And we thought, why can’t we do it all the time?”

France’s ageing population
Image: Statista

Some 6,000 seniors are using the service, aged between 82 and 98 – often paid for by their 50-something children living miles away in cities.

France already offers similar schemes, which are paid for by local councils, including medicines and groceries being delivered and books brought from the library.

A global issue

Loneliness in older people can be associated with health problems including dementia.

A recent US study of people aged 50 and over found a 40% increased risk of dementia among those who reported feeling lonely.

They were also more likely to have depression, high blood pressure and diabetes and be less physically active.

In its report Mental Health of Older Adults, Addressing A Growing Concern, the World Health Organization said: “Factors such as poverty, social isolation, loss of independence, loneliness and losses of different kinds, can affect mental health and general health.

“Older adults are more likely to experience events such as bereavements or physical disability that affect emotional well-being and can result in poorer mental health.”

And the costs connected with loneliness-induced dementia could be huge.

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International’s 2018 report, there are currently 50 million people with dementia worldwide and this figure is set to rise to around 152 million by 2050.

The report states: “The current cost of the disease is about a trillion US dollars a year, and that’s forecast to double by 2030.”

By re-deploying its team of mail workers as carers, the French postal service might have found a clever way of reducing those costs.