The increase in average
life expectancy during the 20th century is ranked as one of
society’s greatest achievements. The World Health Organisation (WHO) uses the chronological
age of 65 years as a definition of an elderly or older person (WHO, 2005).
Although it is a commonly used definition of old age, there is no general
agreement on the age at which a person becomes old. Likewise, the United
Nations does not have a standard criterion, but uses 60 years or above to refer
to older population. For the purpose of this essay, 60 years will be used to
define someone as an older person. The increase in the age of a population can be described by the Demographic
Transition Model, based on the population trends of two characteristics;
fertility rates (births rates) and death rates. Countries that are burdened by
an ageing population are usually in stage 4 or 5 of this transition model.
Fertility rates have declined through population policies e.g. family planning,
better education, economic prosperity and the changing status of women. People
are living longer as they have more wealth than before, advances in healthcare
and a better diet. The consequences of an ageing population can be both positive
and negative for a country, the impact on a country ranges from increased
government spending for services such as medical care and care homes for the
elderly, to less tax revenue for the government. Concerns over these trends has
led to discourses on the most effective policies to reverse or mitigate
consequences of ageing, such as reforming policy health or social policies to
ameliorate these negative consequences.
Ageing is a natural
process and whilst there is no deterministic relationship, it is generally
associated with morbidity and disability.
Not only should the health system be prepared for it, but also society
in general. Old age is not something to be fixed in hospitals or care homes,
although medical care is required. Pensions are crucial for providing income
support in old age, and well-funded pensions systems are a challenge. In
developing countries coverage of pensions tends to be low because of
informality in the labour market. Yet, although money is needed, old age policy
is not fundamentally about money. Elderly populations need companionship, and
meaningful activities in which to occupy their time. This requires social
organization, arrangements for families, and services.