With advances in medicine helping more people to live longer lives, the number of people over the age of 60 is expected to double by 2050 and will require radical societal change, according to a new report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the International Day of Older Persons, recognized today, October 1.

Contrary to widespread assumptions, the report, titled the “World Report on Ageing and Health 2015” finds that there is very little evidence that the added years of life are being experienced in better health than was the case for previous generations at the same age. 

“Unfortunately, 70 does not yet appear to be the new 60,” Dr John Beard, Director of the Department of Ageing and Life Course at WHO said in a press release from WHO. “But it could be. And it should be”.


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While some older people may indeed be experiencing both longer and healthier lives, these people are likely to have come from more advantaged segments of society. 

The report emphasizes that governments must ensure policies that enable older people to continue participating in society and that avoid reinforcing the inequities that often underpin poor health in older age.

The report’s authors note that while some older people will require care and support, older populations in general are very diverse and make multiple contributions to families, communities, and society more broadly. It cites research that suggests these contributions far outweigh any investments that might be needed to provide the health services, long- term care, and social security that older populations require. And it says policy needs to shift from an emphasis on controlling costs, to a greater focus on enabling older people to do the things that matter to them.

But one factor will play a key role in whether the opportunity for ageing societies to reinvent themselves can be realized — the health of these older people.

The report highlights three areas for action that will require a fundamental shift in the way society thinks about aging: 1. making places more friendly to older people; 2. developing long-term care systems that can reduce inappropriate use of acute health services; and 3. realigning health systems to the needs of older people. 

Reference

  1. WHO. World Report on Ageing and Health 2015. 1-233. 

This article originally appeared on Infectious Disease Advisor