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Friday, April 6, 2012

Ageing well: a global priority

 April 7 is World Health Day, the 2012 theme of which is health and ageing. Globally, we are getting older. 5 years from now, for the first time in history, the number of people aged 65 years and older will outnumber children younger than 5 years. Advances in medicine, socioeconomic development, and declining fertility have all contributed to this demographic shift, and countries need to adapt to this change in a positive and inclusive way.

Sadly, as the authors of a letter in the April 7 issue of The Lancet note, population ageing is often framed in negative terms. Older people are viewed as a burden to society and resources. This negativity is also true at the individual level. Past a certain age, many people bemoan another birthday or a grey hair. But ageing is something that should be celebrated. Older people contribute to society in many ways—through their experiences and knowledge, within families and through work, both paid and unpaid. They also face specific health problems related to the ageing process that have been neglected internationally and deserve attention.
Non-communicable diseases are a particular threat to older populations. The biggest causes of years of life lost in people older than 60 years of age are stroke and ischaemic heart disease. Yet evidence suggests that only 4—14% of older people in low-income and middle-income countries are receiving effective antihypertensive treatment that could help prevent these conditions. Additionally, more than 250 million older people around the world experience moderate to severe disability, mainly visual impairment, dementia, hearing loss, and osteoarthritis. And an estimated 28—35% of older people are injured in falls each year. Maltreatment of elderly people is also a serious and under-reported health concern.
This World Health Day, WHO is championing a life-course approach to healthy and active ageing, which includes: promoting good health for all ages to prevent the development of chronic disease; early detection of chronic diseases to minimise their impact; creating physical and social environments that foster the health and participation of older people; and changing social attitudes to ageing. Later this year, The Lancet will publish a Series on ageing. We hope that this Series, together with WHO's renewed commitments, will help create a new movement for healthy ageing for all.

Ageing well: a global priority : The Lancet

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