terrific new report from the World Health Organization

The WHO’s new 2015 World Report on Aging and Health offers a practical roadmap for reframing public health policies to accommodate population aging—“ageing,” that is. As the foundation for its recommendations, it identifies the first priority as “Changing perceptions of health and aging.” Rather than paraphrase, I’ll let a few excerpts speak for themselves. 

  • “One of the challenges to developing a comprehensive response to population ageing is that many common perceptions and assumptions about older people are based on outdated stereotypes. This limits the way we conceptualize problems, the questions we ask and our capacity to seize innovative opportunities. The evidence suggests fresh perspectives are needed.”
  • There is no typical older person. As the evidence shows, the loss of ability typically associated with ageing is only loosely related to a person’s chronological age.”
  • “Though most older people will eventually experience multiple health problems, older age does not imply dependence. Aged-based assumptions of dependence ignore the many contributions that older people make to the economy.”
  • “Contrary to common assumptions, ageing has far less influence on health care expenditures than other factors, including the high costs of new medical technologies. For example, in the United States between 1940 and 1990 (a period of significantly faster population ageing than has occurred since), ageing appears to have contributed only around 2% to the increase in health expenditures while technology-related changes were responsible for between 38% and 65% of growth.”
  • “For most older people, the maintenance of functional ability has the highest importance. The greatest costs to society are not the expenditures made to foster this functional ability, but the benefits that might be missed if we fail to make the appropriate adaptations and investments.
  • Expenditures on health systems, long-term care and broader enabling environments are often portrayed as costs. This report … considers these expenditures as investments that enable the ability and, thus, the well-being and contribution of older people. These investments also help societies meet their obligations with regards to the fundamental rights of older people. In some cases, the return on these investments is direct (better health systems lead to better health which allows greater participation and well-being). Other returns may be less obvious but require equal consideration: for example, investing in long-term care will help older people with a significant loss of capacity maintain lives of dignity and it can also allow women to remain in the workforce, and foster social cohesion through risk-sharing across a community.” 

In her introduction, WHO Director-General Dr.Margaret Chan writes, “In my view, the World report on ageing and health has the potential to transform the way policy-makers and service-providers perceive population ageing – and plan to make the most of it.” I think she’s right.

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