Ensuring Healthy Extra Years for Elderly

Ensuring Healthy Extra Years for ElderlyEnsuring Healthy Extra Years for Elderly

With advances in medicine helping more people to live longer lives, the number of people over the age of 60 is expected to double by 2050 and will require radical societal change, according to a new report released by the WHO on the International Day of Older Persons (October 1).

“Today, most people, even in the poorest countries, are living longer lives,” says Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO. “But this is not enough. We need to ensure these extra years are healthy, meaningful and dignified. Achieving this will not just be good for older people, it will be good for society as a whole.”

Contrary to widespread assumptions, the “World Report on Ageing and Health 2015” finds there is very little evidence that the added years of life are being experienced in better health than was the case for previous generations at the same age, reports.

“Unfortunately, 70 does not yet appear to be the new 60,” says Dr John Beard, Director of the Department of Ageing and Life Course at WHO. “But it could be. And it should be.”

While some older people may indeed be experiencing both longer and healthier lives, these people are likely to have come from more advantaged segments of society. “People from disadvantaged backgrounds, those in poorer countries, those with the fewest opportunities and the fewest resources to call on in older age, are also likely to have the poorest health and the greatest need,” he said.

The report stresses that governments must ensure policies that enable older people to continue participating in society and avoid reinforcing inequities that often underpin poor health in older age.

It rejects the stereotype of older people as frail and dependent and says the many contributions that older people make are often overlooked, while the demands that population ageing will place on society are frequently overemphasized or exaggerated.

While the elderly will require care and support, older populations in general are very diverse and make multiple contributions to families, communities and society more broadly. It cites research that suggests these contributions far outweigh any investments that might be needed to provide the health services, long- term care and social security that older populations require. Policy needs to shift from an emphasis on controlling costs, to a greater focus on enabling older people to do the things that matter to them.

This will be particularly important for women, who comprise the majority of older people and who provide much of the family care for those who can no longer care for themselves. “As we look to the future, we need to appreciate the importance of ageing in the lives of women, particularly in poorer countries,” says WHO Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health Dr Flavia Bustreo.