The elderly are no longer alone with “Viva gli Anziani” programme

The elderly are no longer alone with “Viva gli Anziani” programme


The programme designed especially for the elderly known as Viva gli Anziani has put an end to the emergency that heat waves produce. Facing the extreme temperatures of the past number of weeks, the elderly now have a support network thanks to the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome and the non-profit organization Enel Cuore. Across the 7 Italian cities where the network has been activated, and including 45,000 at-risk individuals, the number of sudden deaths and breakdowns has gone down significantly together with the abrupt deterioration of people’s health.

Continuation of the programme has been confirmed in Rome, Amatrice (in the region of Abruzzo), and Ferentino (southeast of Rome), as well as Naples, Genoa, and Novara and by next year the number of cities will no doubt have doubled.

The outcomes of the initiative were recently presented to the public at the community's headquarters in Rome. Founded in 1968 by Andrea Riccardi, it can now be found in over 70 countries. Compared to 2004, the year the programme ‘Viva gli Anziani’ was born as a reaction to the unexpected number of elderly people dying due to the high summer temperatures, the 450 volunteers and operators have completely changed their strategy of preventive support. Instead of continuing to simply provide acute care, they now perform visits year-round and work on assisting the lonely and socially isolated get involved with others while remaining in constant dialogue with them in order to identify possible causes of their malaise in advance.

Prevention instead of emergency. According to Marco Impagliazzo, Chairman of the Community of Sant’Egidio, this is the only choice when considering the obvious transformation of the climate and the ongoing process of global warming.


“The phenomenon of heat waves has spread further than we thought. It affects more than 30% of the Earth’s population, and for a minimum of 20 days. By 2100 heat waves will affect 74% of the world population”

– Marco Impagliazzo, Chairman of the Community of Sant'Egidio

Collective supervision for people over the age of 80

The social network progressively set up around the elderly (who suffer most from the sudden increase in temperatures) is made up of others of the same age living in better health conditions together with migrants who have established themselves in Italy. This has social repercussions which far surpass the supervisory role: it avoids hospitalization, it relieves first-aid operations, it develops new life-models based on the sharing economy, and it integrates people of different ethnicities who possess a great sensibility towards the elderly.

Considering the situation in Rome where 250 thousand families of elderly singles live, the social impact of ‘Viva gli Anziani’ is clear: in three particular areas of the capital where the programme is up and running - according to the statistics the municipalities have revealed - the summer mortality rate for people over the age of 75 has gone down significantly compared to those areas where the programme is not.

During the years 2014-2015, in Trastevere, Testaccio, and Esquilino (three central districts of Rome where the programme is running), between June and September the average mortality rate increased just 0.5% compared to the 1.5% of the city’s other central areas. Over the course of the year, the mortality rate for people over 75 years of age outside of the programme rose to 60% compared to just 30% among those in ‘Viva gli Anziani’.

The above figures persuaded both the Sant’Egidio community and Enel Cuore, represented by Enel’s Head of Sustainability, Andrea Valcalda, to launch a national proposal for the programme to be considered a benchmark.


“Carrying out co-housing models among the elderly means further strengthening Enel’s commitment to the development goals set up by the UN in the 2030 Agenda. In fact, in this way the sharing economy’s efficiency can be translated socially and adopted nationwide”

– Andrea Valcalda, Head of Sustainability in Enel

A more substantial programme with a national dimension

Thanks to Enel Cuore’s support, this year the programme was extended to another 7 Italian cities with various prevention goals: in addition to new co-housing opportunities, two new multi-purpose centres were realized in Naples and Catania together with a ‘Viva gli Anziani’ call centre. Furthermore, daily centres for the weaker among the elderly and canteens for the poor were created as well.

Looking beyond the horizon, the non-profit organization is now pointing at the roll-out of prevention campaigns in another 7 urban centres by 2018, thus further raising awareness of seniors’ social isolation as well as the risks they incur with heat waves. Consultation tables were set up with institutions and local associations in the city areas of Mestre-Venezia, Livorno, and Civitavecchia as well as in the cities of Campello sul Clitunno, Reggio Calabria, Sassari, and Carbonia Iglesias.

The elderly population is an increasingly important component of our national social services, with about 22% of 60 million people over the age of 65 (compared to 18% in the EU as a whole) and 6.7% over the age of 80 (in the EU as a whole 5.1%). This is why in March 2017 Enel Cuore Onlus and the Community of Sant’Egidio carried out the first training course for volunteers and operators in Rome. Some of the participants, like 84 year-old Maria Sofia Soli, bring with them some support background acquired previously within the community. However, their tasks will now be both more qualified and more diversified. The oldest ones, for example, will act like collaborators on remote whereas the youngest will pay direct visits to the new cases.


“Every week for 4 or 5 years now I have been helping people of my age who live with difficulties in Testaccio, a district of Rome: looking for a caretaker for them, getting a municipal postman to come to them if they need documents, or constantly getting information on their health. Being the same age has helped us develop a trusting relationship, and keep each other company in a better way”

– Maria Sofia Soli, Viva gli Anziani volunteer

An increasingly extended and professional network is now able to put people at the centre of it all. With Enel Cuore and the Community of Sant’Egidio, heat is no longer just a matter of scorching temperatures and a blazing sun: it now means positive energy for people who care for one another.