It is no secret that people are increasingly living longer lives due to remarkable advances in health, technology and development. Increased longevity combined with decreasing fertility rates is resulting in changing demographics and an ageing population. By 2050, the global population of people over 60 will have doubled, representing over 2 billion people. With the goal of fostering longer and healthier lives, the United Nations (UN) Decade of Health Ageing (2021-2030) brings together government, civil society, academia and the private sector to improve the lives of older people and rethink the roles of older people in society. Fostering healthy ageing, defined as “developing and maintaining functional ability that enables well-being in older age,” throughout the life-course is at the centre of the Decade of Healthy Ageing.
A recent article from the World Economic Forum, written by John Ataguba, David E. Bloom and Andrew J. Scott, highlights the need for investment in preventative healthcare to prioritize healthy ageing. As highlighted in the article, with an ageing population comes an increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as dementia, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disorders. The authors indicate that it is necessary to prepare for a “global pandemic of age-related diseases which is even larger than COVID-19 in scale, as well as made worse by the pandemic.”
Indeed, NCDs cause significant mortality, killing 41 million people each year, according to the World Health Organization. Older people and adults experiencing NCDs are also at a greater risk of experiencing morbidity and mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs), such as influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia, shingles and pertussis. The increasing prevalence of NCDs and age-related waning of the immune system, known as immunosenescence, leaves older adults more vulnerable to VPDs. To promote healthy ageing, there is a need to shift from a curative disease model to one that focuses on prevention of disease. Vaccination is an important strategy for shifting resources toward prevention and achieving healthy ageing. Vaccination throughout the life-course is a key prevention effort and investment in healthy ageing, which should be prioritized.
Prevention efforts, like vaccination and promotion of healthy ageing, are worth the investment for many reasons, one being the economic benefits. The article from the World Economic Forum indicates the economic benefits of healthy ageing, since older people drive employment growth and often comprise a large portion of the labour force. Investing in the health of the population allows for greater economic productivity in society, making the case for global action towards prevention and healthy ageing.
Importantly, investment in healthy ageing and prevention extends beyond economics. The authors of the article amplify the intrinsic value of good health and well-being throughout life. Healthy ageing strengthens the societal contributions of older people and investing in healthy ageing is an important priority in reducing inequalities in the long-term. The authors state that inequality “tends to rise with age, multiplying disadvantages over a lifetime and magnifying the impact of health shocks.” Indeed, ageism is often compounded by other social complexities, such as gender, education and ethnicity, leaving older adults most vulnerable to poor health and well-being. A focus on healthy ageing throughout life recognizes the valuable contributions of older people in society and aims to prevent the accumulation of disadvantages over the lifetime. There is a need to change policy and perceptions on ageing, uphold the rights of older people and combat ageism.
Aligned with these goals, the International Federation on Ageing (IFA) is hosting its 15th Global Conference on Ageing entitled “Rights Matter”, which champions healthy ageing and provides a global point of connection for those fighting for the rights of older people. The conference program centers around the four action areas of the Decade of Healthy Ageing: ageism, age-friendly cities and communities, primary health care, and long-term care. In the days prior to the conference, IFA will host the pre-conference Vaccines 4 Life Summit which features sessions based on the principles of prevention, access and equity in adult vaccination, and the Master Class “Campaigning to combat ageism”. Visit the conference website to explore the events and further engage in fostering healthy ageing.
To learn more about prevention, investment in healthy ageing and fighting for the rights of older people, contact these experts.
- Ms. Alana Officer, Unit Head, Demographic Change and Healthy Ageing, World Health Organization
- Dr. John Beard, Former Director of Ageing and Life Course with the World Health Organization
- Prof. Raina MacIntyre, Head of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, and Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, University of New South Wales
Alana Officer Unit Head, Demographic Change and Healthy Ageing
Alana Officer coordinates the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) & oversees WHO's work on age-friendly environments.
Dr. John Beard Director of Ageing and Life Course
Dr John Beard, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., is Director of Ageing and Life Course with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva
Prof. Raina MacIntyre Head, School of Public Health and Community Medicine & Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology
Prof. MacIntyre is an international expert in infectious diseases, vaccinology (especially for the elderly) and biosecurity.