The greying of humanity
Urgent action is needed by governments to address the needs of the the world’s growing ageing population, a United Nations report has found.
The population of over 60-year-olds will reach one billion within the decade and pose social and healthcare challenges, the Ageing in the Twenty-first Century report said.
Among the most urgent concerns of older people worldwide is income security and access to healthcare, the report said.
The report also said more must be done to expose and prevent discrimination and violence against older people, especially women.
Crimes against senior citizens have been on the rise in India. TOI reports about Mumbai:
The growing number of crimes against senior citizens in Mumbai, six of them till September this year alone, has again highlighted the epidemic of loneliness in the financial capital. Under attack for his department’s failure to make the city safer for the elderly, home minister R R Patil has now proposed that every policeman—from the commissioner to the constable—”adopt” one senior citizen in their jurisdiction.
Now systematic studies of health amongst senior citizens have also started. The UN reported WHO’s Study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE). The data is taken over a distribution of countries and demographics within each country.
TOI reports on the report:
87.9% men and 93.5% women in this age group have insufficient nutrition intake, while 24% men and 26% women have low physical activity.
Around one in four men and equal number of women suffer from high blood pressure. Nearly 63% men and 30% women are daily smokers.
Almost three in four men aged 50 and above and over four in five women have high risk waist hip ratio or abdominal obesity that greatly increases cardiovascular disease risk.
Nearly 1.3% males in the age group above 50 are obese. The case is worse for Indian women since 3% of them obese, according to United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) report on “Ageing in the 21st century” to be released on Monday.
“Risk factors for chronic diseases (such as smoking) vary by country. For example, 63% of men over 50 in India smoke, compared with only 11% in Ghana. In China, 51% of women over 50 have high blood pressure, compared with 27% in India. The biggest underlying risk factor for chronic disease in older people is high blood pressure, which can explain 12 to 19% of the total burden of disease in developing countries,” says the UN report. India has around 90 million elderly and the figure is expected to increase to 315 million constituting 20% of the total population by 2050.
That is clearly a large number of people whom we must stop thinking of as elderly. Letting them take their skills away from the workplace at age 60 is not going to do the economy a lot of good, but keeping them in the workplace needs an understanding of cognitive changes in the aging brain. Contrary to popular belief, a recent study published in BMJ concluded “Cognitive decline is already evident in middle age (age 45-49).”
A review of cognition in adults, published in USC Health had the following advise:
Education: Those who ‘use it, don’t lose it’ as quickly, according to studies that compare brain function in adults who attended college and those who did not. “We hesitate to say the brain is like a muscle. But using patterns of connectivity over and over and having those patterns prove useful to us in our life probably makes the synapses broader and the connections between neurons in these valuable and well-used systems stronger, “says Victoroff. One recent study showed that cognitive challenge actually created new neurons in the adult rodent brain, “which means that the old idea that mammals have all the neurons in the brain when born is probably wrong,” says Victoroff. “We expect to discover which environmental stimuli such as physical and mental exercise, are most likely to turn on new neurons in the adult brain.”
Exercise: Those who walk rapidly for as little as 45 minutes three times a week significantly improve age-related declines in cognitive abilities, studies find.
Rest: There is new evidence that suggests a regular pattern of eight hours of sleep per night helps protect against age-related chronic illnesses including memory loss.
Hypertension: Studies suggest hypertension speeds up normal brain shrinkage and loss of mental abilities. Even those on antihypertensive medication have accelerated aging and shrinking of the brain.
Stress: When under stress, the human body produces a hormone called cortisol. In small amounts, it can improve memory-which is what helps emotional events stay vividly in our minds. In larger amounts, however, it wears away at the neurons in the hippocampus.
Head trauma: It has long been known that boxers get punch drunk and their brains exhibit changes that mimic Alzheimer’s disease, only much earlier, notes Finch. A new series of studies show that former soccer players have declines in cognitive function in proportion to their use of their heads in propelling the ball. “Here is a sport that is becoming increasingly popular. Are kids setting themselves up for early mental deterioration every time there’s a sharp blow to the head? That’s something that needs to be investigated,” Finch says.