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Dr. Michael Birt noted in Arizona Republic article 'Seniors to reach 2 billion by 2050'

by Connie Cone Sexton- Oct. 7, 2012 12:17 AM
Originally published at: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/20121004seniors-billions-2050.html

Seniors to reach 2 billion by 2050

World leaders can no longer ignore warnings of the coming "gray tsunami," a phenomenon expected to more than double the population of those 60 and older by 2050, say authors of "Ageing in the Twenty-first Century: A Celebration and a Challenge."

The number of older persons is growing faster than any other age group, according to the report released last week by the United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge International. Increasing longevity due to improved nutrition, sanitation and medical advances should be seen as one of humanity's greatest achievements but policy makers face major hurdles in helping older adults feel productive and secure, the report states.

Governments in both developing and developed nations should strengthen resources to address aging issues and offer training programs, not only in demographics of the aging population but for the social and financial implications to come.

In 1950, there were 205 million people aged 60 and older. Today, there are almost 810 million. In 10 years, it will be 1 billion; 2 billion by 2050.

Nationally, 11.5 percent of the population is 60 or older; by 2050, it will be 21.8 percent. Comparatively, Arizona's percentage will jump from 19.1 to 26.6.

The 22-year-old of today is the 60-year-old of 2050. But the report points out that for many developing countries with large populations of young people, the challenge is that governments have not put policies and practices in place to support their current older populations or made enough preparations for 2050.

Those surveyed for the report say their chief fears for the aging population are income security, access to health care and age-friendly environments in which to live.

Globally, only one-third of countries have comprehensive social programs that provide income and access to essential health and social services, the report states. In order to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, older persons must have access to age-friendly and affordable health-care information and services .

"There are huge social and economic challenges," José Miguel Guzman, chief of the Population and Development Branch of the U.N. Population Fund, said during a teleconference Thursday. "Progress has been slow," he said.

Richard Blewitt, chief executive officer of HelpAge International, said there must be a commitment to end a widespread mismanagement of aging.

But improving the lives of the older generation will require a jump in activism not only by world leaders but by members of the older population itself, he said Thursday. "We have a global campaign ... mobilizing them to stand up and talk to different groups to pay attention to the challenges of being old."

But many of the 1,300 who participated in the report say they continue to face discrimination and have problems with daily living. The report states that:

  • 43 percent said they are afraid of personal violence.
  • 44 percent say their health status is fair.
  • 53 percent say they find it difficult or very difficult to pay for basic services.

Michael Birt, director of the Center for Sustainable Health at ASU's Biodesign Institute, said one of the best ways to improve the lives of seniors is to offer more integration among generations.

"Being isolated is one of the scariest things," he said. "The earlier definition of retirement was for people to get a pension, move to Arizona and live in Sun City with kind of a segregated life."

But Birt believes that goal for many seniors is changing and they want to have more connection to all age groups.

Kathleen Waldron, a professor at Arizona State University and former director of the ASU School of Aging, believes Baby Boomers will have a stronger voice in getting across their needs.

"They're showing us a more accurate depiction of people being involved in the community and leading active and engaged lives," she said.

Boomers are used to finding a voice. They did it during the civil-rights marches, during the Vietnam War. "And I hope that they will, again."