Old age. It sneaks up on us all the way that Hemingway says bankruptcy does, gradually and then suddenly. Old age though is now sneaking up on an ever-increasing population, in the US alone it is estimated that the number of people over 65 will rise from 47 million in 2015 to 88 million in 2050.
Meanwhile, on a global scale the over 65 population is expected to rise from 352 million in 2010 to 1.5 billion in 2050, for the first time in human history the over 65 population will exceed the under 5 population. This massive demographical shift is largely due to increases in medical capabilities and increased life expectancy partnered with falling fertility rates.
The Cost of Longevity
An increase in life expectancy is largely thought of as a great thing, the issue comes, as it does with many great things, with how do we afford it? Maybe Hemingway was onto something with the bankruptcy as well.
The economy is not keeping up with this increase in longevity. Estimates state that in the US alone 10 million people over the age of 65 are still in the workforce, a number that has doubled since 1985 and most households are not saving a sufficient amount for retirement. If nothing changes, these numbers are only going to grow.
Increases in the likelihood and severity of chronic conditions in older populations such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes coupled with an inability to work creates a large burden on both national and global economies. The health sector in particular will take the hit of an ageing population with an increase in costs and staffing levels to keep up with this change in demographics. As well as health care, an increase in pensions will create another financial challenge for economies to deal with.
Changing with the Times
There are however innovative solutions to keep up with this changing demographic, in the words of another great wordsmith, the times they are a changing. The trick is to change with them.
Finland, a country with one of the oldest populations in Europe, has launched an initiative to provide access to fitness and cultural centres such as public pools, gyms, libraries and museums at discounted prices to older groups, with the aim of creating a healthier population. In one town gym access is free to over 65s in the hopes of creating decreases in health expenditure over the long term.
Finland also encourages older populations to volunteer in the community, providing an avenue for connection and stimulation across generational divides and providing a way for older people to still positively contribute to the community.
The World Health Organisation has also advised that investing more time and resources into improving childhood health could limit the healthcare burden of an increased older population. Many health issues in old age stem from childhood circumstances such as poor nutrition or exercise levels. As such older generations would be healthier, could work longer and have increased quality of life if a healthy lifestyle is promoted from childhood.
Old age is coming for us all and with advancements in technology and changes in cultural norms the ageing population is and will continue to increase. Despite the challenges this may bring there are ways these challenges can be combated. To paraphrase Lucas Graham, soon we’ll be sixty years old, so we better be prepared.