The Changing Landscape of Elderly Care: Switzerland’s ‘Time Bank’

Elderly couple embracing as they look out over a lake.

Everyone grows old, but the goal most people share is to age with grace without becoming a burden to their children. (Image: Ruslan Huzau via Dreamstime)

Everyone grows old, but how can the elderly age with grace without becoming a burden to their children? Traditionally, Chinese people believed in the concept of “raising children to care for oneself in old age.” However, this might not be practical anymore. As we see a trend toward fewer children in families, many young couples opt to have only one child or none.

Balancing the care for parents from both sides while maintaining one’s own life can become overwhelming. When both sets of parents require attention, the pressure on the younger generation can be immense. That’s why, when I came across this article, I felt it was essential to share, especially for those approaching retirement.

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Discovering the essence of life: The ‘Time Bank’ system

While studying in Switzerland, I rented a house near my university. My landlord, Christina, was a 67-year-old retired school teacher. Thanks to Switzerland’s generous pension system, she was well-off in her retirement. Surprisingly, she took on a “job” — taking care of an 87-year-old woman.

When asked if she was working for money, her answer was enlightening: “I am not working for the money, but depositing my time into the ‘Time Bank.’ When I can no longer move, I can withdraw from it.”

The first time I heard about this concept, I was deeply intrigued. The Time Bank, developed by the Swiss Federal Social Insurance Department, allows people to deposit the time spent caring for elderly people when they are young. This time can then be withdrawn when they themselves grow old or fall sick. To qualify, applicants must be healthy, good communicators, and have an abundance of love and time. Their service hours are recorded in individual social security accounts.

Caregiver kneeling next to elderly man in a wheelchair in a garden.
People deposit the time spent caring for the elderly when they are young and then withdraw it when they themselves grow old or fall sick. (Image: Ian Allenden via Dreamstime)

Christina would visit Lisa, the woman she cared for, twice a week for two hours, helping with shopping, tidying the room, sunbathing, and chatting. After a year, she received her “Time Bank Card,” which can be used to withdraw “time and time interest.”

One day, Christina called me after a fall. I quickly rushed her to the hospital. As she needed to stay bedridden due to a fractured ankle, I was preparing to take a leave from school to care for her. However, she assured me she had applied to withdraw from the Time Bank. Sure enough, within a couple of hours, a caregiver was dispatched.

For the next month, the caregiver diligently looked after Christina. Once she recovered, she applied to care for two more older individuals, aiming to deposit more time into the Time Bank for her future needs.

The growing popularity of time banking in Switzerland

Nowadays, the Time Bank system has become a popular trend in Switzerland. Not only does it save the country’s care expenses for older people, but it also addresses several societal issues. A significant number of Swiss citizens endorse this system. A survey by Swiss elderly care institutions showed that over half of Swiss youth wish to participate in this kind of service.

Young female helping an elderly woman walk outside.
A survey by Swiss elderly care institutions showed that over half of Swiss youth wish to participate in this kind of service. (Image: Ocskay Bence via Dreamstime)

The Swiss government has even legislated in support of the Time Bank system. With the rising number of “empty nest” seniors globally, this issue is turning into a societal challenge. Switzerland’s Time Bank might indeed offer an invaluable lesson for us all.

Translated by Eva

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