Every day, around six in the morning, Carmen Velasco goes out to the terrace with a coffee and meets Orion and Cassiopeia. "Then I see the sun come up." The ritual symbolizes the pleasure of living alone. With 68 years, his small duplex in El Molar, near Madrid, is the base of operations for a frantic agenda.
Cármenes there are many. Women of retirement age who live alone. If four out of every 10 single-person homes are inhabited by someone over 65, the majority (71.9%) shows a female name in the mailbox, according to INE data. In 2033, these homes will be the ones that will have grown the most (25%), according to the latest projections. The tremendous aging and the world records that Spain holds in life expectancy lead to a panorama of older citizens (87.68, them, and 82.92, them, on average) and more alone, at least in their homes.
It is taking note. "The Government, through Imserso, plans to act in response to this demographic challenge and urgently address loneliness in the elderly," say sources with the Ministry of Health, Consumption and Social Welfare.
When Carmen decided to retire – "it cost me a lot because I loved being a Special Education teacher", she says – she received an envelope: "A trip to Verona with an entrance to the opera, imagine how well my classmates know me". She loves to travel, move and live alone after fleeing a marriage that sucked half of her energy. His day to day is written with many letters: Pilates, French and history classes, the workshop he gives to two choirmates, militancy in Europe Laica, concerts and hiking in Tierra del Fuego or Dolomites. "I like to have obligations, if not, you relax."
In three decades, Carmen will be an octogenarian. "I know that life will put me in my place," he says, "I think you have to have many hobbies and alternatives." And what would you need to continue enjoying the way of life you have chosen ?: "All of us need quality public services and that they let us die in peace with laws that allow us to decide".
The majority of older women who live alone (76.9%) are widows. It is explained by the higher female life expectancy. But that, according to Antonio Abellán, director of the Research Group on Aging of the CSIC, will change something. "There will be a new solitude, that of those who are divorced or single." Like Carmen. The males will be more long-lived. In the end they will also be more alone.
In front of the portal where Rosa lives, in less than a minute an old man pushes the crutches with great difficulty, two arm ladies who do not meet the 70 and another single, hunched over his shopping cart. Moratalaz is a district of Madrid that was born in the sixties of last century and is already prey to the aging that awaits us within three decades: 25% of its neighbors are over 65 years old, as it will be in 2033. Four floors above, Hundreds of films and a cat contemplate Rosa, the supposed name of another 71-year-old retired woman wearing a poncho. "If I saw someone showing up around there" -says the entrance door to the two rooms- "I would feel very strange. The men only look for a chacha to take care of them. " Other things that define him: anarchic, allergic to obligations, great reader, divorced, a matched son who lives seven minutes, outings with friends to go to the movies. He sees them frequently. Like Carmen, she does not feel lonely either.
Rosa walks every day. But he has picked up many kilos when quitting. Carmen is very active with pilates and hiking. Something that would approve José Antonio Serra, head of Geriatrics at the Gregorio Marañón Hospital in Madrid. "75% of how old you are habits of life. If you start at 40 years of age to exercise and maintain an adequate weight, that will be noticeable at 60, 70 and 80 ". If we live more and more alone, he goes on to say, we must reduce the time of dependency, which now is calculated in five years, until we leave it in one. To die as healthy as possible and without suffering. "And that includes eating well. Many older people alone, for example, do not eat, out of laziness. And you have to take protein, "observes the specialist.
Going home and not having someone to say hello does not mean feeling alone. But older people accuse him more. Statistics vary a lot: from 59% (CIS-Imserso) to 35% (European social survey) regret loneliness. "With the same age, women are better and have more resources," says Javier Yanguas, director of the Senior Program at the La Caixa Foundation and co-author of the study The challenge of loneliness in old age. Perceiving isolation has serious consequences, psychic and physical. A well-studied summation that includes depression, cardiovascular risk, cognitive deterioration and premature death.
What to do then? "If we go to the gym and take care of the diet to age better, we have to plan seriously and bet on cultivating social relationships; that generates fights, but also illusions, "says Yanguas, who also talks about empowering, through the Always Accompanied program, those citizens who live alone:" So that they learn to manage solitude with resources and skills ".
"It is the neighbors who help each other in the block," says Rosa, the Madrilenian woman who lives alone in Moratalaz, the aging district, "above all they are pending. They have the key to my house. Men are always sitting in the square. "
Something like this makes the Friends of the Elderly Foundation with the Great Neighbors program that facilitates the generational exchange in the same environment. Through the NGO, the young man who lives in the neighborhood and who did not know anyone prepares the food for the older woman and she takes something with him.
Both Carmen and Rosa inhabit houses of their property, with rooms to spare, previously occupied. The most common. It will be necessary to build smaller houses, adapted to an occupant and, given the rise in the rental price, to increase the public housing stock for rent, says Jorge Arévalo, partner of the architectural studio Paisaje Transversal. In addition, "the houses have not been designed for old people, from the ramps to the plugs, placed almost on the floor", says Antonio Abellán. "We must rehabilitate them to favor accessibility and energy improvement," Arévalo adds, "this makes it easier for the elderly to go out and save energy."
The architect Blanca Lleó, creator of the award-winning research project Living 100 years, longevity and future city, is committed to active houses: "Homes do not have to be more comfortable, but rather the opposite. Exercise and attention should be encouraged in the daily routine. Going up and down stairs, striving to turn lights on and off, exercise arms to raise blinds, open and close windows. " But he points out that it is necessary to design easily transformable houses when dependency occurs.
The neighborhood of Rosa has many social centers, shops and green areas. Lleó believes that it will be necessary to "promote the synergy between generations in the public places of the city and in neighborhood endowments, creating spaces for integration. The different generations have complementary interests and schedules of life, their integration allows an effective use of the same space of the city, the neighborhood, the housing. It is integration, it promotes the compact and socially sustainable city ".
Rosa believes that she will end up in a residence, although she would like to continue living alone. "But I'm realistic. If the social services improve and they dedicate more means to them, it would be the perfect thing ". At the moment, 100 dependents die every day without receiving the services recognized by the Administration. The demographer Antonio Abellán, of the CSIC, points to the Nordic countries, where almost half of the elderly live alone, compared to 25% in Spain. "The difference is marked by more developed social services that allow them to live at home helped with more resources." How to face this, then? "Pay taxes," he answers.