While some consider old people to be a precious commodity because of all their gathered experience, some can’t wait to get rid of them, either by putting them in homes or by simply abandoning them. And that is a sad reality, since most elderly citizens are oases of information and knowledge; not that they’re always willing to share.
Of course, that is mostly a generalization, as elderly citizens are just that – citizens that happen to be old – so they’re of course as individualized as everyone else. But I had to start on that note, as what’s going to happen over the next few decades can either go very well or very poorly.
I’m referring to the fact that a new study from the U.S. Census Report found that the world’s elderly population will double by 2050. The study refers to senior citizens aged 65 and older, which will reach some 1.6 billion, or 17 percent of the world’s population within the next four decades.
As opposed to those numbers, today’s elderly make up some 8.5 percent of the population, or some 617 million people. In the United States alone, the number of senior citizens will nearly double, going from 48 million to around 88 million. And there are multiple reasons for this worldwide elderly boom.
First and foremost, life expectancy has been on a steady climb over the past decades. The worldwide life expectancy is expected to climb from 68.6 to 76.2 years. This means that the percentage of elders aged 80 and older, part of the “oldest old” age group, will more than double, climbing from 126.5 million to 446.6 million. The majority of these are found in Latin America and Asia.
But things aren’t necessarily as hopeful as they might seem. According to Richard J. Hodes, the director of the National Aging Institute and the man who commissioned the study,
People are living longer, but that does not necessarily mean that they are living healthier. The increase in our aging population presents many opportunities and also several public health challenges that we need to prepare for. NIA has partnered with Census to provide the best possible data so that we can better understand the course and implications of population aging.
As for the health conditions most likely to affect this predicted elderly growth, non-infectious diseases are the number one threat. But this is mostly true for high-income countries, like the U.S. Meanwhile, for poorer countries, the biggest threat is that posed by infectious diseases.
Negative and heath-detrimental lifestyle factors strangely seem to have been increasing in the ranks of the senior citizens, with alcohol use, smoking, and lack of an adequate diet and exercise contributing to the global burden of disease.
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