Diseases of aging on the rise

July - August, 2009 | Volume 8, Issue 4

Treating chronic diseases around the world is a good news/bad news challenge: Modern medicine has increased longevity everywhere but as people are living longer they are increasingly burdened by diseases of aging.

A Census Bureau report commissioned by the National Institute of Aging (NIA) finds that in the next 10 years, for the first time there will be more people older than 65 than there are children under 5.

The number of people worldwide 65 and older is estimated at 506 million as of mid-2008 and by 2040, that number will hit 1.3 billion, a doubling in the proportion of older people from 7 percent to 14 percent.

"While there are important differences between developed and developing countries, global aging is changing the social and economic nature of the planet and presenting difficult challenges," says Dr. Richard Suzman, director of NIA's Division of Behavioral and Social Research.

"Population aging represents, in one sense, a human success story of increased longevity. However, the steady, sustained growth of older populations also poses many challenges to policymakers," the study says, citing "worldwide improvements in health services, educational status and economic development" as other reasons for the senior boom.

"Most developed nations are among the demographically oldest in the world today, and some may have more grandparents than young children before the middle of the 21st century," says the report, An Aging World: 2008.

Highlights from An Aging World: 2008

  • By 2040, developing countries are likely to be home to more than 1 billion people 65 and over, 76 percent of the projected world total.
  • Globally, the number of people over 80 is projected to increase 233 percent by 2040, compared with 33 percent for the total population of all ages.
  • One-third of those over 65 are in China and India.
  • Twenty percent of women 40 to 44 in the United States in 2006 had no biologic children, raising questions about the provision of care when this cohort reaches advanced ages.

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