Ageing: A biological reality

"lt is important to prepare health providers and societies to meet the specific needs of older populations." [Representational Image]
"lt is important to prepare health providers and societies to meet the specific needs of older populations." [Representational Image] Special arrangement


Ageing is an inevitable aspect of the biological reality of life, characterized by a natural process of growth and decline that occurs simultaneously. It is a complex phenomenon with its unique dynamics and processes, many of which remain beyond our control.

With improving global health, ageing population is increasing steadily. The world will soon have a unique demographic spectacle those aged 65 and more will outnumber those aged less than 5.

The world population of 60yrs and above is estimated to reach 2.1 billion by 2050 and has already doubled since 1980.

This is undoubtedly a cause to rejoice for global health initiatives but these celebrations may be premature if we do not brace up to these new shifts in the demographics.

Older people make important contributions to society as family members, volunteers and as active participants in the workforce. The wisdom they have gained through life experience makes them a vital social resource.

But with this demographic shift come the challenges and most of these challenges are to health care.

lt is important to prepare health providers and societies to meet the specific needs of older populations. With age we lose ability to live independently because of restricted mobility, loss of vigor and declining cognitive functioning.

AIong with these global demographic trends are enormous social upheavals with globalisation, urbanization  declining of family as unit. Which will mean fewer people to care for ageing population within the families.

The definition of ‘health’ with regard to old age is a subject of debate. There is consensus that health in old age cannot meaningfully be defined as the absence of disease because the prevalence of diagnosable disorders in elderly populations is high. Instead, health is considered to be multifaceted:

The diagnosis of disease should be complemented by assessment of discomfort associated with symptoms (e.g., pain), life threat, treatment consequences (e.g., side effects of medication), functional capacity and subjective health evaluations (Borchelt et al., 1999).

Furthermore, Rowe & Khan (1987) suggested that the health of subgroups of older adults be defined in terms of their status relative to age and cohort. Non communicable diseases are the commonest afflictions of elderly population, among them neuropsychiatric disorders are the commonest.20 percent of elderly do have some neuropsychiatric illness severe enough to cause disability.

Alzheimer’s Dementia is increasingly becoming common illness of elderly.

Elie Wiesel said that without memory there is no culture without memory there is no civilization, no society, no future. And one of the consequences of changing demographics is lot of elderly population with fading memories -dementia as it is called is not part of normal ageing it is a clinical syndrome that effects memory, behavior and thinking and hence the routines.

Dementia is a global epidemic projections indicate that the number of people with dementia will continue to grow, developing countries will experience the greatest growth. The total number of people with dementia worldwide is estimated at more than 50miIIion and is projected to nearly double every 20 years, to nearly 78 million in 2030 .

The total number of new cases of dementia each year worldwide is over 1 0 million, implying one new case every 3.2 seconds. Ask the families who have patient with dementia Jit is overwhelming for patients but it is no less burden on families.

Dementia effects families physically socially, economically and psychologically as well.

Ageing society and its mental health consequences are reality and we need to refocus our health agendas to fit in needs of changing society. From lessening loneliness to preventing elderly abuse to early detection and diagnosis of dementia the tasks are many.

AII stake holders need to be involved and a public health approach is the only way forward to improve care and quality of elderly population. The complete dissociation between need and planning is reflected in the fact that we still do not have geriatric health facility even at tertiary care centres of state.

The policy makers need to wake up to the new realities and priorities and act now. By all what we have done in health till now has achieved the goal of adding years to life, but what we need to do now is to add life to these years.

(Dr Arshad Hussain Professor at GMC , Srinagar.)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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