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Population ageing: a global health crisis?
Population ageing: a global health crisis?

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5 Population ageing: the challenges for global health

The video in Activity 1 introduced some of the challenges of population ageing. Once of the most notable challenges is the increased costs involved in meeting the needs of older people, many of whom may be vulnerable or in poorer health. In the next activity, you will take a longer look at these concerns about population ageing and increasing life expectancies.

Activity 4 Elderly health

Timing: Allow about 45 minutes

Global health is concerned with the health of all nations, especially health concerns that cross boundaries. In this activity you will discover what concerns population ageing and increasing life expectancy might bring for global health.

Listen to Audio 1, an interview with Dr Jay Bhattacharya about disability, elderly health and obesity in the United States. As you listen, think about the following question.

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Audio 1 Disability, elderly health and obesity
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What two possible health concerns associated with ageing are described in the audio?

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The audio discussion highlights two main health concerns arising from population ageing in the USA.

  1. Life expectancy has increased, but there is a question of whether older people are spending these extra years in ill health or with functional limitations and disabilities. There is the example of how improvements in technologies have increased the survival chances of those with diseases such as diabetes, but this might mean those who have these diseases might be in poorer health or have greater disability than those who had such diseases 20 years ago.
  2. Another point raised relates to non-communicable diseases and conditions (those that cannot be transmitted from person to person) such as Type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Population ageing is associated with a rise in these conditions, but the audio suggests there might be an additional challenge in the fact that younger generations might be more likely to age with these diseases compared to those previously, with obesity being given as a reason.

Although the audio discussion is based on ageing in the USA, the questions surrounding the rise in non-communicable diseases, and whether increases in life expectancy means prolonged periods of ill health, are concerns shared by ageing societies across the world. Non-communicable diseases and conditions such as stroke are among the top ten causes of death across the world (World Health Organization, 2014) and of the number of deaths from non-communicable diseases, three quarters of these in 2012 occurred in low- and lower–middle-income countries. So, shared health concerns refer to those issues that are common to many nations around the world.

While increased life expectancy can be seen as a success, population ageing is a global health challenge because an increasing percentage of older people in any population means preventing, managing and treating non-communicable diseases, as well as ensuring that additions to life expectancy are spent in good health. This has been referred to as the ‘challenge of success’.