Today, most people can expect to live into their 60s and beyond. A longer life represents an important opportunity, not only for older people and their families, but also for societies as a whole. But the extent of this opportunity depends heavily on one factor: health
: The world’s population is rapidly ageing. The number of persons 60 years or older is expected to increase from 900 million to 2 billion between 2015 and 2050 (moving from 12% to 22% of the total global population). Population ageing is happening more quickly than in the past.
There is little evidence that older persons today are in better health than their parents. Although there was little change in the prevalence of less severe limitations in functioning, the amount of older persons in high-income countries needing help from another person to carry out basic activities—such as eating and washing—declined only slightly over the past 30 years.
: The most common health conditions in older age are noncommunicable diseases. Older persons in low- and middle-income countries carry a greater disease burden than those in wealthy countries. The main diseases that cause the death of older persons are heart disease, stroke, and chronic lung disease. In low- and lower-middle-income countries, the greatest causes of disability are sensory impairments, back and neck pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depressive disorders, falls, diabetes, dementia, and osteoarthritis.
When it comes to health, there is no “typical” older person. Biological ageing is only loosely associated with a person's age in years. Some 80-year-olds have physical and mental capacities similar to many 20-year-olds. Other people experience declines in physical and mental capacities at much younger ages.
Health in older age is not random. Some of the variations in older persons' health reflect their genetic inheritance, but most is due to their physical and social environments, and the influence of these environments on their opportunities and health behavior. These factors start to influence ageing from childhood; an older person from a disadvantaged background is both more likely to experience poor health and is less likely to have access to the services and care that they may need.
: Ageism may now be more widespread than sexism or racism. Ageism
–discrimination against a person on the basis of their age–has serious consequences for older persons and societies. Ageism can take many forms, including prejudicial attitudes, discriminatory practices, or policies that perpetuate ageist beliefs. It can obstruct sound policy development, and it can significantly undermine the quality of health and social care that older persons receive.
Comprehensive public health action requires fundamental shifts in how we think about ageing and health. Health in older age shouldn’t be defined by the absence of disease. "Healthy ageing
" is achievable by every older person. It is a process that enables older persons to continue to do the things that are important to them. While health and social care expenditures for older persons are often viewed as costs to society, they should be understood as investments in realizing opportunities and ways that enable older persons to continue to make their many positive contributions.
Health systems need to be realigned to the needs of older populations. Most health systems around the world are poorly prepared to address the needs of older persons, who often have multiple chronic conditions or geriatric syndromes. Systems must be capable of providing older person-centered and integrated care, and focus on maintaining capacities as people age.
: In the 21st century, all countries need an integrated system of long-term care. Long-term care has developed as a basic safety net for the most vulnerable, but it needs to move toward becoming a broader system that maximizes older persons' functional ability and upholds their autonomy and dignity.
: "Healthy ageing
" involves all levels and sectors of government. Examples of intersectoral action include establishing policies and programs that expand housing options, making buildings and transport accessible; promoting age-diversity in working environments, and protecting older people from poverty through social protection schemes. Making progress on this issue of healthy ageing will also require a far better understanding of age-related topics and trends.
See reference for more information.
Adapted from WHO Fact sheets, 10 facts on ageing and health. Internet. Available at https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/10-facts-on-ageing-and-health. Accessed on November 27, 2021.