About ageing and life-course
Populations around the world are rapidly ageing. This is a cause for celebration. In part it reflects our successes in dealing with childhood disease, maternal mortality and in helping women achieve control over their own fertility.
Challenges and opportunities
Ageing will also present both challenges and opportunities. It will strain pension and social security systems, increase demand for acute and primary health care, require a larger and better trained health workforce and increase the need for long term care, particularly in dealing with dementia.
However, the opportunities are just as large. Older people are a wonderful resource for their families, communities and in the formal or informal workforce. They are a repository of knowledge. They can help us avoid making the same mistakes again.
Indeed, if we can ensure older people live healthier as well as longer lives, if we can make sure that we are stretching life in the middle and not just at the end, these extra years can be as productive as any others. The societies that adapt to this changing demographic can reap a sizeable "longevity dividend", and will have a competitive advantage over those that don't.
Population ageing is closely linked to economic development. While it was now developed regions such as Europe, Japan and North America that were the first to experience this demographic transition, it is currently less developed countries which are experiencing the most dramatic demographic change.
By 2050, 80% of older people will live in what are now low- or middle-income countries, and nations like China and Brazil will have a greater proportion of older people than the USA.
Even more importantly, population ageing in these countries is occurring at a much faster rate than was the case for the currently developed world. This means they will have a much briefer opportunity to prepare for an older population.
While the challenges facing these countries are daunting, they are not insurmountable, and dealing with them early in the development cycle is likely to make them more manageable. Strategies include:
- the provision of state funded basic pensions adequate to protect older people against extreme poverty;
- the provision of basic primary health care and mechanisms to support the long term care of those with functional loss.
Perhaps above all, there needs to be a greater emphasis on health itself, through policies that serve to prevent chronic disease and foster the ongoing social engagement of older people.