Aging & Health: Cracking the Code to a Vital Life!

The lifespans of people worldwide are increasing. Nowadays, most individuals can live to be over 60 years old, or even older. The size and proportion of the elderly population in every country around the world are growing.

By 2030, one in six people in the world will be 60 years of age or older. At that time, the proportion of the population aged 60 years or older will increase from one billion in 2020 to 1.4 billion. By 2050, the number of people aged 60 years or older will double to 2.1 billion. The population of people aged 80 years or older is expected to double between 2020 and 2050, reaching 426 million.

Although population aging, known as demographic aging, began in high-income countries (such as in Japan, where 30% of the population is already over 60 years old), it is now the low- and middle-income countries that are experiencing the largest changes. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population aged 60 years or older will be living in low- and middle-income countries.

 Ageing and health

Explanation of aging

At the biological level, aging is the result of the accumulation of various molecular and cellular damages over time. This leads to a gradual decline in physical and mental abilities, an increase in the risk of diseases, and eventually death. These changes are neither linear nor consistent, and they are only loosely associated with a person’s age. The diversity observed among older people is not random. In addition to physiological changes, aging is usually associated with other life transitions, such as retirement, moving to more suitable housing, and the death of friends and partners.


Common health conditions related to aging

Common health conditions among older people include hearing loss, cataracts and refractive errors, back and neck pain, and osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression, and dementia. As people age, they are more likely to experience multiple conditions simultaneously.

Another characteristic of old age is the emergence of several complex health conditions, often referred to as geriatric syndromes. They are usually the result of multiple underlying factors, including frailty, urinary incontinence, falls, delirium, and pressure ulcers.


Factors affecting healthy aging

Longer life spans provide opportunities not only for older people and their families but also for the whole society. The additional years offer opportunities to pursue new activities, such as continuing education, new careers, or long-neglected passions. Older people also contribute to families and communities in multiple ways. However, the degree to which these opportunities and contributions are realized largely depends on one factor: health.

Evidence suggests that the proportion of physically healthy individuals remains roughly constant, which means that the number of years lived with poor health is increasing. If people could live these extra years in good physical health and if they lived in a supportive environment, their ability to do things they value would be similar to that of younger people. If these additional years are mainly characterized by declining physical and mental abilities, then the impact on older people and society will be more negative.

Although some of the health changes that occur in old age are genetic, most are due to individuals’ physical and social environments – including their families, neighborhoods and communities, and their personal characteristics.

Although some changes in the health of the elderly are genetic, most are due to physical and social environments, including their family, neighborhood, community, and personal characteristics, such as gender, race, or socio-economic status. The environment in which people grow up, even in the fetal stage, combined with their personal characteristics, has a long-term impact on their aging.

Physical and social environments can directly or indirectly affect health by influencing barriers or incentives to opportunities, decisions, and healthy behaviors. Maintaining healthy behaviors throughout life, especially balanced diet, regular physical exercise, and quitting smoking, all contribute to reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases, improving physical and mental abilities, and delaying reliance on care.

Supportive physical and social environments also allow people to do important things that may be challenging due to declining abilities. Examples of supportive environments include the availability of safe and accessible public buildings and transportation, as well as walkable areas. In developing public health strategies for aging, it is important to consider not only individual and environmental approaches that reduce losses associated with aging, but also those that may enhance recovery, adaptation, and social-psychological growth.


Challenges in Addressing Aging Populations

There is no typical elderly person. Some 80-year-olds have physical and mental abilities similar to many 30-year-olds, while others experience significant decline at a younger age. Comprehensive public health interventions must address the wide range of experiences and needs among the elderly.

To address the challenges of aging populations, public health professionals and society need to acknowledge and challenge ageist attitudes, develop policies to address current and projected trends, and create supportive physical and social environments that allow elderly people to do important things that may be challenging due to declining abilities.

One example of such supportive physical equipment is the toilet lift. It can help the elderly or people with limited mobility encounter embarrassing problems when going to the toilet. In developing public health strategies for aging, it is important to consider not only individual and environmental approaches that reduce losses associated with aging but also those that may enhance recovery, adaptation, and social-psychological growth.


WHO’s Response

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2021-2030 as the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing and called on the World Health Organization to lead its implementation. The UN Decade of Healthy Ageing is a global collaboration that brings together governments, civil society, international organizations, professionals, academia, media, and private sectors to undertake 10 years of coordinated, catalytic, and collaborative action to promote longer and healthier lives.

The decade is based on the WHO Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health and the United Nations Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, supporting the achievement of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals.

The UN Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) aims to achieve four goals:

To change the narrative and stereotypes around aging;
To create supportive environments for aging;
To deliver integrated care and primary health services for older persons;
To improve measurement, monitoring, and research on healthy aging.

Post time: Mar-13-2023