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At a time of unpredictable challenges for health, whether from a changing climate, emerging infectious diseases, or the next microbe that develops drug resistance, one trend is certain: the ageing of populations is rapidly accelerating worldwide. For the first time in history, most people can expect to live into their 60s and beyond. The consequences for health, health systems, their workforce and budgets are profound.
The World report on ageing and health responds to these challenges by recommending equally profound changes in the way health policies for ageing populations are formulated and services are provided. As the foundation for its recommendations, the report looks at what the latest evidence has to say about the ageing process, noting that many common perceptions and assumptions about older people are based on outdated stereotypes.
As the evidence shows, the loss of ability typically associated with ageing is only loosely related to a person’s chronological age. There is no “typical” older person. The resulting diversity in the capacities and health needs of older people is not random, but rooted in events throughout the life course that can often be modified, underscoring the importance of a life-course approach. Though most older people will eventually experience multiple health problems, older age does not imply dependence. Moreover, contrary to common assumptions, ageing has far less influence on health care expenditures than other factors, including the high costs of new medical technologies.
Guided by this evidence, the report aims to move the debate about the most appropriate public health response to population ageing into new – and much broader – territory. The overarching message is optimistic: with the right policies and services in place, population ageing can be viewed as a rich new opportunity for both individuals and societies. The resulting framework for taking public health action offers a menu of concrete steps that can be adapted for use in countries at all levels of economic development.