WHO Focuses on Aging Population for World Health Day

Between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of the world's population over 60 years will double from about 11 percent to 22 percent.

One of the biggest social transformations is population aging. Soon, the world will have more older people than children and more people of very old age than ever before. The World Health Organization is focusing on aging and health for World Health Day on April 7.

1. The world will have more people who live to see their 80s or 90s than ever before. The number of people aged 80 years or older, for example, will have almost quadrupled to 395 million between 2000 and 2050. There is no historical precedent for a majority of middle-aged and older adults having living parents, as is already the case today. More children will know their grandparents and even their great-grandparents, especially their great-grandmothers. On average, women live six to eight years longer than men.

2. The past century has seen remarkable improvements in life expectancy. In 1910, the life expectancy for a Chilean female was 33 years; today, it is 82 years. This represents a remarkable gain of almost 50 years of life in one century, and is largely due to improvements in public health.

3. Soon, the world will have more older people than children. Within the next five years, for the first time in human history, the number of adults aged 65 and over will outnumber children under the age of 5. By 2050, these older adults will outnumber children under the age of 14.

4. The world population is rapidly aging. Between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of the world's population over 60 years will double from about 11 percent to 22 percent. The absolute number of people aged 60 years and over is expected to increase from 605 million to 2 billion over the same period.

5. Low- and middle-income countries will experience the most rapid and dramatic demographic change. For example, it took more than 100 years for the share of France's population aged 65 or older to double from 7 to 14 percent. In contrast, it will take countries like Brazil and China less than 25 years to reach the same growth.

6. Healthy ageing is linked to health in earlier stages of life. Undernutrition in the womb, for example, may increase the risk of disease in adult life, such as circulatory diseases and diabetes. Respiratory infections in childhood may increase the risk of chronic bronchitis in adult life. Obese or overweight adolescents run the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, circulatory disease, cancer, respiratory, and musculoskeletal disorders in adult life.

7. How well we age depends on many factors. The functional capacity of an individual's biological system increases during the first years of life, reaches its peak in early adulthood, and naturally declines thereafter. The rate of decline is determined, at least in part, by our behaviors and exposures across the whole life course. These include what we eat, how physically active we are, and our exposure to health risks such as those caused by smoking, harmful consumption of alcohol, or exposure to toxic substances.

8. Even in poor countries, most older people die of noncommunicable diseases. Even in poor countries, most older people die of noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, rather than from infectious and parasitic diseases. In addition, older people often have several health problems at the same time, such as diabetes and heart disease.

9. The number of people living with disability is increasing due to population aging and because of the greater risk of chronic health problems in older age. For example, about 65 percent of all people who are visually impaired are aged 50 and older, with this age group making up about 20 percent of the world's population. With an increasing elderly population in many countries, more people will be at risk of age-related visual impairment.

10. Globally, many older people are at risk of maltreatment. Around 4-6 percent of older people in developed countries have experienced some form of maltreatment at home. Abusive acts in institutions include physically restraining patients, depriving them of dignity (by for instance leaving them in soiled clothes), and intentionally providing insufficient care (such as allowing them to develop pressure sores). The maltreatment of older people can lead to serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences.

11. The need for long-term care is rising. The number of older people who are no longer able to look after themselves in developing countries is forecast to quadruple by 2050. Many of the very old lose their ability to live independently because of limited mobility, frailty, or other physical or mental health problems. Many require some form of long-term care, which can include home nursing, community care and assisted living, residential care, and long stays in hospitals.

12. Worldwide, there will be a dramatic increase in the number of people with dementias such as Alzheimer's disease, as people live longer. The risk of dementia rises sharply with age with an estimated 25-30 percent of people aged 85 or older having some degree of cognitive decline. Older people with dementia in low- and middle-income countries generally do not have access to the affordable long-term care their condition may warrant. Often their families do not often have publicly funded support to help with care at home.

13. In emergency situations, older people can be especially vulnerable. When communities are displaced by natural disasters or armed conflict, older people may be unable to flee or travel long distances and may be left behind. Yet, in many situations they can also be a valuable resource for their communities as well as for the humanitarian aid process when they are involved as community leaders.

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