Due to the increased life expectancy rate and the lower fertility rate, the proportion of persons over 60 years of age is increasing in almost all countries more rapidly than any other age group.
The aging of the population can be considered a success for the politics of public health and socioeconomic development but also constitutes a challenge for society which will have to adapt to this situation in order to better improve the health and functional capacity of older people, as well as their safety and participation in society.
The aging of the world population (in developing and developed countries) is an indicator of improving global health. The world´s population of people 60 years of age and older has doubled since 1980 and is forecast to reach 2 billion by 2050. This is a cause for celebration. Older people make important contributions to society as family members, volunteers and as active participants in the workforce. The wisdom they have gained through life experience makes them a vital social resource.
However, along with these benefits come special health challenge. It is important to prepare health providers and societies to meet the specific needs of older populations. This includes training for health professionals on old-age care; preventing and managing age-associated chronic diseases; designing sustainable policies on long-term and palliative care; and developing age-friendly services and settings.
The quicker we take action, the better chance we have of ensuring this global transformation benefits everyone. Countries that invest in healthy ageing can expect a significant social and economic return for the whole community.
Today, even in poor countries, the principal causes of death are illnesses such as heart disease, chronic lung disease and stroke, and the principal causes of disabilities are loss of vision and hearing, dementia and osteoarthritis.
The number of older people who are no longer able to look after themselves in developing countries is forecast to quadruple by 2050. Many of the very old lose their ability to live independently because of limited mobility, frailty or other physical or mental health problems. Many require some form of long-term care, which can include home nursing, community care and assisted living, residential care and long stays in hospitals.
Creating accessible and supportive physical and social environments adapted to old people´s necessities can maximize their self-reliance, live independently and actively participate in society.
To be able to age well depends on many factors. The functional capacity of an individual´s biological system increases during the first years of life, reaches its peak in early adulthood and naturally declines thereafter. The rate of decline is determined, at least in part, by our lifestyle and environment throughout life. Factors include what we eat, how physically active we are and our exposure to health risks such as those caused by smoking, harmful consumption of alcohol, or exposure to toxic substances.
Healthy aging begins with healthy living in all life phases. Healthy habits include nutrition, physical activity and our levels of exposure to toxic substances But it is never too late to start: for example, the risk of premature death decreases by 50% if someone gives up smoking between 60 and 75 years of age.
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