02:05am Saturday 30 May 2020

Academic calls for world rethink on older people's health

Ageing is all too often framed in negative terms according to Prof Peter Lloyd-Sherlock – an expert in elderly people’s health and wellbeing.

Today in The Lancet, and with backing from academics around the world, he is urging the media, politicians and the general public to celebrate human longevity, instead of considering it a problem.

World Health Day takes place on Saturday, April 7, and this year’s focus will be on healthy ageing. It is predicted that by the year 2017, for the first time in history, the number over 65s will out-number children younger than five years.

A letter published in The Lancet, lead-authored by Prof Lloyd-Sherlock from UEA’s School of International Development and co-signed by 12 leading academics, journal editors and NGOs, calls for a transformation of attitudes towards ageing.

Prof Lloyd-Sherlock and his colleagues also want to see attention shifted to dealing with non-communicable disease in the elderly, which represents by far the largest burden of disease in this age group.

Prof Lloyd-Sherlock said: “Depictions of older people remain stereotyped and generalised, distorting public opinion and skewing policy debates.

“The use of economic dependency ratios, one of the most common measures of ageing, assumes that anyone aged 65 years or older is unproductive. And older people are often viewed as a social and economic burden.

“Yet many older people continue to make substantial social, economic, and cultural contributions, which can be enhanced by measures that improve their health and functional status.”

The letter also points out that health spending and health-service use are more closely associated with how close someone is to death than with chronological age – with less spent on older people than on younger people with similar conditions.

Prof Lloyd-Sherlock and his colleagues call for governments around the world to make a huge difference by making relatively cheap and simple interventions available – such as the effective management of hypertension, diabetes, and hypercholesterolaemia, and by promoting healthy lifestyles including regular physical activity.

He said: “The failure of national governments and international agencies to prioritise these cheap and effective treatments represents a missed opportunity to reduce mortality, illness, and disability on an unprecedented scale.

“Although the non-communicable disease (NCD) agenda has gathered some momentum in recent years, international health spending in low-income and middle-income countries remains heavily focused on infectious diseases and mother and child health.

“If we do not challenge existing policy paradigms and the social attitudes that underpin them, population ageing might indeed lead to a crisis in the provision of health and welfare services. Instead, we should see it as a welcome opportunity to challenge outdated public perceptions, political priorities, and policy models.”

The letter is published on April 4 in The Lancet. It co-signed by leading figures from the National Institute on Aging, HelpAge International, the International Longevity Centre UK, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, HelpAge International, Newcastle University, the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College, London, and the New Jersey Institute of Successful Aging, among others.

University of East Anglia – Communications Office

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