Statistics and world demography tell us that by the year 2050, 20% of world’s population will be elderly people, and we have to work today in order to scale up and be prepared to face this challenge and address the issue.
Europeans today are living longer than ever before and are expected to live longer and longer. Today, 1 in every 6 citizens is aged 65 or over. In less than 50 years time, almost 1 in every 3 citizens will be 65 or over.
Pakistan has a population of 180 million, but if we look at Pakistan’s demography pyramid we will find only 4.5% of the population in that pyramid to be elderly. Pakistan has a high fertility and high mortality rate whereas in developed countries there is low fertility and low mortality.
Life expectancy in Pakistan is 64 years. In most of the developed countries due to good health systems and timely investment in health as the indicators reflect, life expectancy is around 75 years. The elderly population is 17% of the total population in developed countries.
People ageing in good health need less healthcare services and can continue contributing to society as they grow older. Hence, the emphasis is not only on healthy ageing but active and healthy ageing.
For us today the vital question is, therefore, what can we do to help citizens age in good health and live independent active lives?
Here I stress a very old saying which is prevention is better than cure. We need to focus on promotion of good health, prevention of avoidable diseases, and on innovation for healthy ageing.
Many of the chronic diseases including diabetes mellitus, coronary heart disease, ischemic heart disease, blood pressure, lung cancer, and osteoarthritis among others that older people in Pakistan suffer from are avoidable. They are very strongly linked with how they live, what they eat and drink, and whether or not they smoke or exercise throughout their lives.
This is the reason why I believe we need to focus much more on encouraging healthy choices: a healthy diet, physical exercise, and discourage smoking. For example, if we discourage today’s young people from smoking, tomorrow’s elderly citizens will suffer less from tobacco-related diseases. A growing trend shows that daily physical activities, health and careful eating, and eating food with less cholesterol, sugar, and salt are absent from the lives of most Pakistani families.
I believe our objective should be on “adding life to years” and on helping people live healthier.
Traditionally, elderly care has been the responsibility of family members and was provided within the extended family home. Increasingly in modern societies, elder care is now being provided by state or charitable institutions. The reasons for this change include decreasing family size, the greater life expectancy of elderly people, the geographical dispersion of families, and the tendency for women to be educated and work outside the home. Although these changes have affected European and North American countries first, it is now increasingly affecting Asian countries also.
In order to improve the quality of life of the ageing population, we must emphasize vertical relations rather than horizontal relations. I am not saying that horizontal relations are not important, but I believe that if we stress more on vertical relations and take responsibility of our elders, then they will live more comfortably and relaxed in their later years.
Children should visit their elders at least once every fortnight and spend time with them, talk to them and listen to them articulate their social, mental, and physical challenges so that we can be more responsive.