Ageing and life-course

Long-term-care systems

HelpAge International/Antonio Olmos

Older people continue to have aspirations to well-being and respect regardless of declines in physical and mental capacity. Long-term-care systems enable older people, who experience significant declines in capacity, to receive the care and support of others consistent with their basic rights, fundamental freedoms and human dignity.

These services can also help reduce the inappropriate use of acute health-care services, help families avoid catastrophic care expenditures and free women – usually the main caregivers – to have broader social roles. While global data on the need and unmet need for long-term care do not exist, national-level data reveal large gaps in the provision of and access to such services in many low- and middle-income countries.

WHO/TDR /Andy Craggs

The WHO long-term care series aims to catalyse change and encourage the development of sustainable and equitable long-term care systems worldwide. The series will do this by sharing regional experiences of long-term care, including gaps, challenges, models of care and support worth considering; and providing guidance on key issues, such as financing, human resourcing, monitoring and research.

A group of older women are in discussion.
Judith Escribano/Age International

At the World Health Assembly in May 2016, 194 countries agreed that every country should have a long-term-care system. Yet few countries have systems in place that can adequately meet the care and support needs of their populations. Long-term-care systems that are sustainable and equitable can take different forms depending on the cultural and economic context.

WHO is holding regional policy dialogues to build understanding on what is needed and commitment to take action that will meet the needs of frail and care-dependent older people.


Caregiving for people with dementia can take a heavy physical and emotional toll. To help caregivers, WHO has launched iSupport, a new online training and support programme. iSupport helps caregivers understand the impact of dementia, deal with challenging behaviour, provide good care, and take care of themselves.

What WHO is doing

Systems of long-term care (including palliative care) are needed in all countries to meet the needs of older people. WHO has identified three approaches that will be crucial. These are:

  • establishing the foundations necessary for a system of long-term care;
  • building and maintaining a sustainable and appropriately trained workforce;
  • ensuring the quality of long-term care.

To support these approaches WHO:

  • develops guidelines, providing evidence-based guidance on how to develop, expand and improve the quality of long-term-care services with a focus on less resourced settings;
  • provides technical assistance and support to countries that are introducing and expanding long-term-care services;
  • develops tools and training packages to strengthen formal and informal caregivers.