All over the world, people are living longer than ever before. The life expectancy of most of the population today is equal to or greater than 60 years. Every country in the world is experiencing an increase in both the number and proportion of older people in the population.
By 2030, one in six people in the world will be 60 years old or older. At this point, the population aged 60 and over will have increased from 1 billion to 1.4 billion in 2020. By 2050, the world population in this age group will double (2.1 billion). It is estimated that the number of people aged 80 and over will triple between 2020 and 2050 to reach 426 million.
This shift in the distribution of countries’ populations towards older age – known as population aging – started in high-income countries (for example, in Japan 30% of the population is already over 60 years old), but the biggest changes are now seen in low- and middle-income countries. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population over 60 will live in low- and middle-income countries.
From a biological perspective, aging is the result of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage that, over time, leads to a gradual decline in physical and mental abilities, an increased risk of disease, and ultimately death. However, these changes are not linear or uniform, and their relationship to a person’s age in years is fairly relative. The variety appreciated in old age is not by chance. Beyond biological changes, aging is often associated with other life transitions such as retirement, relocation to more suitable housing, and the death of friends and spouses.
Common conditions related to aging
Common conditions in older age include hearing loss, cataracts and refractive errors, back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression and dementia. What’s more, the older you get, the more likely you are to experience more than one condition at the same time.
Old age is also characterized by the emergence of a variety of complex health conditions, commonly known as geriatric syndromes. It is often the result of multiple underlying factors, including but not limited to frailty, urinary incontinence, falls, delusions, and pressure ulcers.
Factors affecting healthy aging
Extending life expectancy presents opportunities not only for older people and their families, but also for society as a whole. During these additional years of life, new activities can be undertaken, such as continuing studies, starting a new profession, or taking up old hobbies. On the other hand, seniors contribute to their families and communities in many ways. However, the extent of these opportunities and contributions largely depends on one factor: health.
Evidence suggests that the rate of healthy life remains roughly constant, implying that additional years are marked by poor health. When people are able to live these extra years of life in a healthy and supportive environment, their ability to do what they value most is barely distinguishable from that of a young person. Instead, if these extra years are dominated by a decline in physical and mental abilities, the effects on older people and society become more negative.
Although some differences in the health of the elderly are due to genetics, the most influential factors are the physical and social environment, particularly housing, neighborhood and community, and age, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. The environment in which an individual lives in childhood – even in the embryonic stage – has long-term effects on aging, along with personal characteristics.
Physical and social environments can affect health directly or by creating barriers or incentives that affect health-related opportunities, decisions, and habits. Maintaining healthy habits throughout life, especially a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and avoiding tobacco use help reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases, improve physical and mental capacity, and delay drug addiction.
Supportive environments, both physically and socially, also make it easier for people to perform activities that are important to them despite their disability. The availability of safe and accessible buildings and public transport, as well as places that are easy to walk, are examples of conducive environments. When formulating a public health response to aging, it is important to consider not only the individual and environmental factors that buffer age-related losses, but also those that can enhance recovery, adjustment, and psychosocial growth.
Difficulties in responding to population aging
There is no such thing as a “typical” old person. Some eighties have physical and mental abilities that have nothing to envy to those in their twenties. Other people experience significant impairment at a much earlier age. Therefore, public health intervention must be comprehensive to address the enormous differences that exist in the experiences and needs of older people.
The variety appreciated in old age is not by chance. This is largely due to the physical and social environments people are in, as this environment influences their opportunities and health habits. Our relationship with our environment is determined by our personal characteristics such as the family we were born in, our gender and ethnicity, and this leads to inequalities in our relationship with health.
It is often assumed that the elderly are weak or dependent and a burden to society. Public health professionals and society in general must confront these and other attitudes of age discrimination as they can lead to situations of discrimination and affect policy making and the creation of opportunities for older people. Enjoy healthy aging.
Globalization, technological developments (for example, in transportation and communication), urbanization, migration and changes in gender norms affect the lives of the elderly both directly and indirectly. A public health response should take stock of current and future trends and design its policies accordingly.
The United Nations General Assembly declared 2021-2030 as the Decade of Healthy Aging and asked WHO to lead its implementation. The Decade is a global collaborative project that aims to bring together the efforts of governments, civil society, international organizations, professionals, academia, media and the private sector for over 10 years to take concerted, catalytic and collaborative actions aimed at promoting longer and longer. healthier lives.
The Decade is based on the WHO Global Strategy and Action Plan on Aging and the Madrid International Action Plan on Aging, and is a support for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Decade of Healthy Aging (2021-2030) aims to reduce health inequalities and improve the lives of older people, their families and communities through collective action in four areas: changing the way we think, feel and act about age and ageism. ; develop communities to build the capacities of older people; to provide integrated care and primary health care services that respond to the needs of the elderly, centered on the person; and provide access to long-term care for older people in need.