World health report

Executive summary

Older people

  • By 2025 there will be more than 800 million people over 65 in the world, two-thirds of them in developing countries.
  • There will be 274 million people over the age of 60 in China alone - more than the total present population of the United States.
  • Increases of up to 300% of the older population are expected in some countries, especially in Latin America and South-East Asia, within the next 30 years.
  • Population ageing has immense implications for all countries. In the 21st century, one of the biggest challenges will be how best to prevent and postpone disease and disability and to maintain the health, independence and mobility of an ageing population.
  • Even in wealthy countries, most old and frail people cannot meet more than a small fraction of the costs of the health care they need. In the coming decades, few countries will be able to provide specialized care for their large population of aged individuals.
  • Some European countries already acknowledge that there is insufficient provision to meet with dignity the needs of all those over the age of 75, who currently consume many times more medical and social services than those under 75.
  • Developing countries will face even more serious challenges, given their economic difficulties, the rapidity with which populations age, the lack of social service infrastructures, and the decline of traditional caring provided by family members.
  • Many of the chronic conditions of old age can be successfully detected, prevented and treated, given sufficient resources and access to care.
  • Worldwide, circulatory disease is the leading cause of death and disability in people over 65 years, but there is great potential for preventing and treating it.