Friday, May 15, 2020

WHO Global Aging Report

Photo by Wendy North.

I'm spending May developing a university course on the topic of Global Aging and Health Care. Textbooks are always a few years behind current data. However with COVID-19, the information about the health of older adults is rapidly becoming outdated.

Even with COVID-19, the world's population is aging. Do countries have support services in place to assist them? 

The health of older adults is interwoven with other dimensions of their location--their country's economics, politics, military conflicts, population pyramids, migration patterns, and available health care services, just to name a few.

Nevertheless, I am striving to learn the "lay of the land" about global aging by surveying reports by major stakeholders such as WHO, UN, UNESCO, OECD and others.

I'm starting by reading the World Health Organization's report Global Health and Aging (published in October 2011).

Here are the highlights with some responses based on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rising Needs for Supporting People Living into Advanced Age with Multiple Chronic Diseases. 

For the last couple of decades, projections have proliferated about the aging of almost all world populations, given the growing availability of treatments for diseases that used to be fatal. Also, increased vaccinations and sanitation have reduced the infant morality rate.
"The number of people aged 65 and older is projected to grow from an estimated 524 million in 2010 to nearly 1.5 billion in 2050" (p. 2). 
More people are living with heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Many people with cancer are receiving treatments that significantly prolong their lives.

Unfortunately, all of these chronic diseases put people at risk for a severe case of COVID-19. Nevertheless, there will still be people who need healthcare in the wake of COVID-19, either because they survived into advanced age or that younger people are now living with complications from the virus.

The economic effect of COVID-19 is going to limit already strained healthcare services.

(Before COVID-19), New Disease Patterns Emerged

Over time, more countries are shifting their primary cause of deaths away from these causes:
  • communicable diseases
  • maternal and perinatal conditions
  • nutritional conditions
Instead, a growing percentage of people are living with noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, COPD, and diabetes.
"Although many developing countries still experience high child mortality rates from infections and parasitic diseases, one of the major epidemiologic trends of the current century is the rise of chronic and degenerative diseases in countries throughout the world--regardless of income level" (p. 9). 
The aging world population is also subject to a combination of noncommunicable diseases and infectious or parasitic disease. An older person with COPD could acquire HIV/AIDS, and an older person with diabetes could acquire tuberculosis of malaria.

The rest of the report explores in more detail the rise of chronic diseases in older adults (Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, cancer, etc.) around the world and how this presents challenges in how each country's government and each older adult's family might offer support as the need for long-term care increases across the globe.


Risk Factors for COVID-19 
More Older Adults Than Ever: Population Pyramids
The Lie of "One and Done" Caregiving


  1. Fascinating. Husby and I were just talking about our aging population and the rising need for health care. I remember my MIL, years ago, mapping out every place we went on a shopping trip to make sure she knew where the bathrooms were. Now I understand her concerns. Just a small indicator of how our needs change. All I can picture now is 1.5 million Seniors all looking for the bathroom...

    1. Oh, I haven't thought about the need to map out the restrooms. Yes, that's an image--all those bladders looking for a bathroom. Thanks for stopping by, Diane.

  2. The pandemic certainly impacts different groups differently. The nursing home numbers are so disturbing. Confined populations can't protect themselves and that is part of our policy and treatment of aging pops.

    1. Yes, it's alarming to see such a high percentage of deaths from nursing homes (and meat packing plants, prisons, and reservations of Native Americans). I hope scientists, community health experts, and politicians can work together to mitigate the virus. It's heartbreaking.

  3. It really makes you want to live in the middle of nowhere as you age so you aren't confined to an over 50 building in the city where you could be more prone to disease.

    1. Yes, I can see how senior housing buildings may communicate the virus through HVAC or even just the mailbox area, laundry area and the elevator. I am hoping that scientists can find treatments and a vaccine while the rest of us work on mitigating the spread. All my best to you, Rebecca.

  4. It is so tough on all the seniors locked in to their retirement/nursing homes and often confined to their rooms, not allowed to eat together and no social activities. I am a volunteer visitor at a retirement home and of course can not go in there.