What is healthy ageing?
The UN Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) started amid the global pandemic. What is healthy ageing and who should contribute to making it a reality?[node:field_featured_media:entity:field_media_image]
Ageing is a theme that keeps growing in importance. Seniors, care home residents in particular, bore the brunt of the initial waves of COVID-19 that swept across the world in 2020. And this year, the International Day of Older Persons turned 30 (or 10?), and the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing began.
Humans are on average living longer than ever before and the ratio of young to older persons is shifting. This is the first of the ten facts on ageing and health published by the World Health Organization (WHO). "The number of people aged 60 years or older will rise from 900 million to 2 billion between 2015 and 2050 (moving from 12% to 22% of the total global population)."
The pace of change – formerly referred to as the graying of society – is speeding up: "While France had almost 150 years to adapt to a change from 10% to 20% in the proportion of the population that was older than 60 years, places like Brazil, China and India will have slightly more than 20 years to make the same adaptation."
The pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works. Research by Oxford University indicates life expectancy fell across most of Europe and the US "on a scale not seen since World War II". How long and how COVID-19 will act as a brake on longevity remains to be seen. But the likelihood is that longevity will remain an undisputed fact in the decades ahead.
The gift of healthy ageing
The long-held traditional view was that "growing old" was as inevitable as it was undesirable. Today, the narrative has shifted to presenting longevity - populations growing older - as a positive gift. This is Aegon's view:
"Globally, increasing longevity has gifted humanity with an extended period of life, which presents people with the opportunity to redefine their working years and time spent in retirement." (The New Social Contract: Empowering individuals in a transitioning world)."
Enjoying this gift of extra time requires healthy ageing and fundamentally changing how people retire. "It involves the need for people to remain in paid employment longer, stay physically and mentally active, maintain good health, and have the ability to remain in their own home and communities throughout their lives."
A longer life as a gift has been introduced to a wider audience by London Business School professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew J. Scott. In their bestselling book, The 100-year life (living and working in the age of longevity), they offer practical solutions to the challenges that individuals and society faces in the transition to living longer. "If we get it right it will be a real gift; to ignore and fail to prepare will be a curse".
WHO defines healthy ageing as “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age.” Functional ability is about having the capabilities that enable all people to be and do what they have reason to value. This includes a person’s ability to:
- meet their basic needs;
- learn, grow and make decisions;
- be mobile;
- build and maintain relationships; and
- contribute to society.