Ageing and Life Course

1 October: International Day of Older Persons

Older people – a new power for development

Why a "new power"?

A demographic revolution is underway throughout the world. Today, world-wide, there are around 600 million persons aged 60 years and over; this total will double by 2025 and will reach virtually two billion by 2050 - the vast majority of them in the developing world.

In our fast ageing world, older people will increasingly play a critical role - through volunteer work, transmitting experience and knowledge, helping their families with caring responsibilities and increasing their participation in the paid labour force.

Already now, older persons make major contributions to society. For instance, throughout Africa –and elsewhere - millions of adult AIDS patients are cared for at home by their parents. On their death, orphaned children left behind (currently, 14 million under the age of 15 in African countries alone) are mainly looked after by their grandparents.

It is not only in developing countries that older persons' role in development is critical. In Spain for example, caring for dependent and sick individuals (of all ages) is mostly done by older people (particularly older women); the average number of minutes per day spent in providing such care increases exponentially with the carers' age: 201 minutes if the carer is in the age group 65-74 and 318 minutes if aged 75-84 - compared to only 50 minutes if the carer is in the age group 30-49 (Durán H, Fundación BBVA, 2002).

Such contributions to development can only be ensured if older persons enjoy adequate levels of health, for which appropriate policies need to be in place. In line with the Madrid International Plan of Action, the World Health Organization launched in 2002 a document "Active Ageing - A Policy Framework", outlining its approaches and perspectives for healthy ageing throughout the life course.

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"Ageing is a development issue. Healthy older persons are a resource for their families, their communities and the economy."

WHO Brasilia declaration on healthy ageing, 1996.