The World is Aging

Another two decades and there will be an elderly population of over 2 billion worldwide. Just imagine: more older people than the entire world population just some few decades ago! Furthermore,theworld in which we are ageing is very different from the one we were born into – for instance, much more urbanized. Just consider: today, around three quarters of all older people living in the developed world are urban dwellers and the proportion will continue to steadily increase over the next decades. Society is changing fast in parallel to its ageing process.

No longer the extended families where a few would reach old age surrounded by younger relatives. Globalization, urbanization, international migration, declining fertility rates, participation of women in the workforce… irreversible changes that make active aging both, more challenging and more than ever imperative.

More challenging because the status of older persons has changed. No longer we live – or want to live! – in patriarchal societies. When an older person needs support there will not be right there an army of (female) relatives to provide such care. On the other hand, for those who age well the prospect of growing older has never been so good: more and better health and social services, more facilities, higher incomes. But for those who are not so privileged… it is not easy, to say the least.

Societies are therefore urgently required to develop mechanisms, strategies and policies that will forge the cement for ageing to be a positive experience for most. That cement is, in one word, solidarity. Solidarity between the rich and the poor, the North and the South, the public and the private sectors – but above all, the young and the old.

Such solidarity needs to be fostered and nurtured: there are competing forces to make it more difficult to happen than in the past. But it is feasible even in our more materialistic, urban society. Besides, it is also what people want and expect.

In virtually all the 35 cities engaged in the World Health Organization “Age Friendly Cities” project older people expressed the importance they attribute to intergenerational solidarity – and the need to facilitate and make it happen.

Solutions, new approaches, strategies, practical exemples are all needed and I commend those who conceptualized and developed this Guide. It will immensely contribute to the Active Ageing vision of “optimizing the opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as we age “. But it will also contribute to the realization that in a society where older people are more integrated, more socially included, everybody gains.

Alexandre Kalache, MD, PhD
Senior Advisor to the President on Global Ageing, the New York Academy of Medicine,
Former Director of the World Health Organization Programme on Ageing and Life Course,
HelpAge International Global Ambassador on Ageing.

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