Population ageing

Online Q&A
October 2010

Why is the population ageing?

The ageing of the world's populations is the result of the continued decline in fertility rates and increased life expectancy. This demographic change has resulted in increasing numbers and proportions of people who are over 60. As a result, the first time in history when there will be more older people than younger people is rapidly approaching.

What issues related to ageing are WHO working on?

WHO is working on three areas with a direct impact on ageing:

  • prevention of chronic disease;
  • access to age-friendly primary health care;
  • creation of age-friendly environments.

WHO has developed guidelines that help countries to understand the types of programmes they can put in place to improve healthcare settings and cities so they are better suited to the needs of older people. WHO supports networks where countries can share technical information, discuss strategies and policies that have worked in their country to improve the lives of older people.

What is WHO doing to increase our understanding of health and ageing?

To increase our understanding of the health implications of ageing, particularly in less developed countries, WHO is undertaking the Study on global ageing and adult health (SAGE). This longitudinal follow-up of approximately 50 000 older adults is being carried out in China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Russian Federation and South Africa. The study links a related international network of health and demographic surveillance: the Demographic evaluation of populations and their health (INDEPTH). Comparisons with similar studies in high income countries will provide opportunities to understand similarities and differences in the health and well being of older adults globally.

What roles do older people take on in society?

Older persons work in a paid or unpaid capacity, care for family members and friends, and carry out after-retirement work in organizations and associations. They pass their experiences onto younger generations and by doing so, they help them strengthen their capacities. A high percentage of older people care for their grandchildren or other relatives and friends regularly and thus, in case of grandchildren, are supporting their children. In Africa, for example, family support of grandparents plays a particularly important role supporting children, as the parent's generation has been strongly impacted by the effects of HIV/AIDS.

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