Elderly People

What issues do we face in the Netherlands when it comes to care, wellbeing and support for our elderly residents? And how does ZonMw help? We are working alongside practitioners, educators, researchers and care users to improve knowledge about elderly people’s quality of life. Our motto is: grow old just as you like.

What does ZonMw do for elderly people?

We work with practitioners, educators, researchers and care users to find answers to practical issues and gaps in the knowledge as regards care (long-term and acute), support and wellbeing for elderly people. We encourage the development and implementation of knowledge (both on the care itself, and how best to organise it), as well as innovation, funding for research, the development of methodology, multidisciplinary collaboration and the use of IT solutions in elderly care and support. These results provide input for policy at various levels, and for healthcare practice. 

What is the profile of the elderly population, and how does ZonMw regard it?

It is not easy to define ‘the elderly’ as a group. Like the younger generation, this is a very diverse group in terms of what people want and need, and the values they hold. It is not only age, but also vitality, which determines the extent to which a person conforms to the picture of the older generation in terms of their care and support needs. 


We have a retirement age of 65+ in the Netherlands, which means that someone is classed as elderly once they have reached this age. However, average life expectancy is rising, so we also have different generations of elderly people. The growing focus on lifestyle and the improved healthcare system mean that someone who is now classed as elderly may be much more active and healthy than they would have been, say, 20 years ago. A person’s background also plays and important role. We can see this clearly in elderly people from a migrant background, where there are big differences between generations, and how they experience growing older in the Netherlands. 

Based on care needs

A 50-year-old with a physical or mental disability might also be classed as elderly. The ageing process is different for them, and they will need certain types of care and/or support sooner than others. Examples of specific groups that might be classified as elderly at a lower age due to the fact that illness or disability affects their ageing process are given below. 

  • People with a learning disability
  • People with a physical disability
  • People with a chronic illness

Remaining independent for longer and ageing as healthily as possible (prevention)

Various activities are taking place designed to ensure that more elderly people can remain living independently in the future in a place where they feel at home. The norm defined in the WOZO report (WOZO is the Dutch acronym for housing, support and care of the elderly) is: independently if possible, at home if possible and online if possible. ZonMw contributes to this in various ways.

Core themes for the elderly

Our current knowledge of elderly people can be divided into a number of core themes. This makes it easier to access specific information. 

Individualised care for elderly people

  • Primary care
  • Short-term recovery care
  • Long-term care
  • Specialist care
  • Palliative care

Elderly people and wellbeing

  • Quality of life

In recent years the concept of positive health has given healthcare in the Netherlands new direction. Positive health is about people’s ability to use their resilience to adapt to changing circumstances and retain control over their own wellbeing, for optimum quality of life. Health is no longer regarded as a purely medical notion, as the absence of illness, but the ability to adapt and self-manage. The focus is not therefore on extending life, but on enhancing quality of life.

  • Sense of purpose
  • Daily activity
  • Healthy lifestyle
  • Prevention and reablement

Social network and forms of care for elderly people

  • Residential
  • In the community

Aids for elderly people

IT can provide solutions for some social problems, such as loneliness among elderly people, the rising demand for and cost of healthcare and growing staff shortages. All kinds of innovations are being developed, including in the European Active and Assisted Living (AAL) programme.

  • Useful aids for healthcare professionals 
    • E-health - triage
    • Wishlist - proactive care planning
  • Applications for elderly people
    • Care robots and best practice

Network collaboration for elderly care and wellbeing 

For some time now, we have been encouraging the development and consolidation of networks to ensure good collaboration between elderly people, care professionals, educators and officials. Collaboration involving different fields and sectors helps provide more comprehensive and joined-up care. We are keen to help all groups receiving long-term care with the questions and challenges they face. 

  • Examples of integrated collaboration
    • Social field
    • Local
    • Regional
    • National
  • How does ZonMw promote network collaboration?
    • Learning networks
    • Implementation

Elderly knowledge infrastructure

  • ZonMw is building a knowledge infrastructure for elderly care 
  • Academic collaborative centres
  • Learning networks
  • Development of talent and free research

Implementation – moving things on

We also take steps to raise awareness of and enhance the impact of our programmes. We constantly ask ourselves what it is we want to achieve with the knowledge from studies, and how and with whom we can ensure that the knowledge is used. This is considered at all stages of programming, from preparations to delivery of outcomes. 

Latest news and policy on elderly people

Good policy on elderly care requires collaboration with and between different authorities. ZonMw has drawn up the Healthy Ageing agenda to help with this. This is a knowledge agenda designed to contribute to a new, integrated national life-cycle approach for all generations. The goal is to identify questions on which integrated collaboration between several ministries is needed. 

  • Development of guidelines
  • Quality standards
  • Government agreements on healthy ageing, integrated care and healthy and active life – WOZO IZA GALA