Washington, D.C., (PAHO/WHO) — The number of people over age 60 living in Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to reach some 100 million by 2025, a 78% increase over the 56 million older adults who were living in the region as of 2006.
The gains reflect major public health progress, but they also pose major challenges for countries that must meet the needs of growing numbers of seniors.
“This dramatic shift presents us with a window of opportunity to focus new attention on healthy aging. By making adequate social and health investments now, we can promote longer, healthier, and more active lives, while ensuring that aging populations do not become an economic burden for countries’ development,” said the Director of the Pan American Health Organization, Dr. Mirta Roses Periago.
Population aging is one of the most pronounced demographic trends in Latin America and the Caribbean and has a major impact on public health. Thanks to gains in life expectancy, a 60-year-old living in the region now can expect to live an additional 21 years. Of those born today, an estimated 81% will live beyond age 60, and 42% will live beyond age 80. While this contributes to the accumulation of social capital, it can also create major challenges for families, social and health systems, and older people themselves.
World Health Day 2012—whose theme was “healthy aging”—called attention to the importance of keeping older adults active, healthy, and engaged to maintain their independence well into their later years and prevent or delay illness and disabilities.
“It is our responsibility and in our own interest to make sure we all continue to live full, healthy and productive lives as long as we are on this earth,” said Dr. Enrique Vega, PAHO/WHO Advisor on Healthy Aging. “This means investing more in our health and social systems and in policies to support seniors, and striving as individuals and collectively to be active and engaged as we all age.”
Dr. George Alleyne, Director Emeritus of PAHO/WHO, says it is equally important to recognize the value of seniors’ contributions and to mobilize them economically, socially, and in policymaking and advocacy efforts to help define and meet the challenges of population aging. “We need to change our perceptions of the roles and responsibilities of the elderly,” said Alleyne.
“Healthy aging allows us to break the stereotype of seniors as passive recipients of social and health services. By staying healthy and independent, they are an invaluable resource for society and contribute enormously to the welfare of their families and communities,” said Dr. Roses.
PAHO aging experts note that many countries’ health systems are already unable to provide comprehensive health care for seniors. Moreover, countries often lack the information they need to adequately assess the health requirements of older adults and the impact of policies, programs, and interventions on their health. Without action now, these problems will only worsen as the number of older adults continues to grow.
Urgent areas for action include strengthening health systems and training health personnel, particularly in areas such as preventive medicine and integrated care for chronic noncommunicable diseases; developing and implementing programs to promote ‘‘self-management” and “self-care’’ for older adults; and strengthening social protection mechanisms to keep seniors out of poverty.
Vega notes that, in the medium term, population aging in the region will contribute to economic growth and facilitate such action.
“For the next 40 years, the economically active population will grow more rapidly than the dependent population. Now is the time to make the social and health investments we need to ensure healthy and active aging and a lighter economic burden in the future,” he said.
Aging in the Americas
· Nearly half of older adults say they lack the economic resources they need to meet their daily needs, according to a recent PAHO survey.
· One-third of older adults say they have no pension, retirement funds, or paid work.
· Some 77% of people over 65 in the United States say they have good health, compared with fewer than half of people over 65 in Latin America and the Caribbean.
· One in five older people in Latin America and the Caribbean has a basic functional disability and requires permanent care at home or in an institution.
· Eighty percent of family members caring for an elderly person say they have problems shouldering the costs of such care.
PAHO, which celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.