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Beyond nostalgia: Older people's perspectives on informal care in rural Flanders

Background: Flanders (Belgium) is aging at high speed. In 2060, almost one in three (32 percent) will be older than 60. The number of people aged 80 and over will increase from more than 400,000 today to nearly 800,000 in 2060. This demographic change can be witnessed throughout the entire region, yet older people are overrepresented in rural areas. A large majority of older people is ‘aging in place’. This often occurs in places that witness a severe decline in basic facilities and that suffer from a loss of its young(er) population. Nevertheless, policies in Flanders strongly support aging in place, while emphasizing the role of informal caregivers. Objective: This paper explores older people's perceptions of and experiences with informal care in rural Flanders. Methods: Based on qualitative in-depth interviews, we focus on the role of family members and neighbors in providing informal care for older people living at home in two different rural areas in Flanders (‘Westhoek’ and ‘Kempen’). Findings: The analysis shows how, in both regions, receiving care from children and neighbors is simply not always perceived as a valid and realistic option by our respondents, and this for different reasons. It concludes that the current focus of elderly policy in Flanders on aging in place and the strong emphasis on the role of informal caregivers work only for those older people whose informal caregivers (in practice mostly children) live nearby. This depends strongly, of course, on spatial and economic factors. Also, neighbors are not the cohesive group they are presumed to be. Conclusions: We thus have to move beyond the nostalgic idea that neighbors and close family members can or will actively engage in informal care. 

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Journal article
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Journal of Rural Studies
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