Living Longer

They say 70 is the new 60.

The World Health Organization begs to differ.

WHO officials released a report today, titled the “World Report on Ageing and Health,” that states there is little evidence to suggest that older people in today’s societies experience better health than their parents did at the same age.

By the time people turn 60, they deal with a number of major burdens of disability and death arising from a multitude of things from loss of hearing and sight to mobility to noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, chronic respiratory disorders, cancer, and dementia.

WHO Older

The older you get, the more at risk you are for developing multiple chronic conditions simultaneously.

The problem for the world is that more and more people are living well beyond 60 years of age.

WHO officials said global leaders need to figure out how to deal with it.

“The consequences for health, health systems, their workforce and budgets are profound,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan in an introduction to the report.

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A Call to Change Society

In order to alleviate this issue, WHO officials said there needs to be a transformation in health and long-term care systems.

In addition, the report states a need for radical changes in the way society perceives older people and supports them.

“With the policies in place and services in place, population aging can be viewed as rich new opportunities for both individuals and societies,” said Chan in her remarks.

Population aging can be viewed as rich new opportunities for both individuals and societies.
Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General

The report authors urge countries to focus more on a strategy they call “healthy aging.”

Among other things, they urge societies to align health systems to serve older populations, develop long-term care programs, and create age-friendly environments.

They also urge communities to combat age-based stereotypes and discrimination.

“Comprehensive public-health action on aging is urgently needed,” the report states, “and there is something that can be done in every setting, no matter what the level of socio-economic development.”

Read More: Researchers Break Down Aging Process »

The Cost of Caring for the Elderly

The report authors said population aging will increase healthcare costs but not by as much as expected.

They note that in some high-income countries, the healthcare spending per person declines significantly after age 70.

The report authors say most of these expenditures can be money well spent.

“Expenditures on health systems, long-term care and broader enabling environments are often portrayed as costs,” the study authors wrote. “This report takes a different approach. It considers these expenditures as investments that enable the ability and, thus, the well-being and contribution of older people.”

Still, medical costs can be quite high during the last year or two of life. About 10 percent of all healthcare expenditures in the Netherlands and Australia involve caring for someone in their final year of life. In the United States, that figure is 22 percent.

Read More: The Organs in Our Body May Age Differently »

What It Means to Be Older

The WHO report notes that for the first time in world history, most people can expect to live into their 60s and beyond.

Officials say declining fertility rates and increasing longevity are causing a rapid aging of the world’s population.

For example, a child born in Brazil or Myanmar this year can expect to live 20 years longer than someone born in those countries 50 years ago. In Iran, only about 1 in 10 people right now is older than 60. In 35 years, that is expected to increase to one in three Iranians.

Even for people with declines in capacity, supportive environments can ensure that they live lives of dignity and continued personal growth.
World Health Organization report

WHO officials said the prospect of longer lives can be viewed as an opportunity. People can plan their lives around the assumption they will have a number of years after retirement. They can then pursue additional education, volunteerism, or a lifelong passion.

However, they noted, enjoying these later years is heavily dependent on a person staying in good health.

The chronic conditions that afflict many older people can be prevented or delayed. Other health problems can be managed if they are detected early enough, the report states.

“Even for people with declines in capacity, supportive environments can ensure that they live lives of dignity and continued personal growth,” the report states. “Yet, the world is very far from these ideals.”