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Facts on Ageing

This topic provides facts about ageing.

What is ageing?

Persons above sixty years of age are classified as aged persons. The process of ageing is considered to start when a person has "completed the traditional adult roles of making a living and child rearing and enters the years following the completion of these tasks that represent an extension of life" (Tibbitts). There are further classifications of "young-old" for persons who may have just turned 60 and old-old for those in the age-group of those aged 75 years and beyond (Hutchinson).

Ageing explained

At the biological level, ageing results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time. This leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, a growing risk of disease, and ultimately, death. But these changes are neither linear nor consistent, and they are only loosely associated with a person’s age in years. While some 70 year-olds enjoy extremely good health and functioning, other 70 year-olds are frail and require significant help from others.

Beyond biological changes, ageing is also associated with other life transitions such as retirement, relocation to more appropriate housing, and the death of friends and partners. In developing a public-health response to ageing, it is important not just to consider approaches that ameliorate the losses associated with older age, but also those that may reinforce recovery, adaptation and psychosocial growth.

Common health conditions associated with ageing

Common conditions in older age include hearing loss, cataracts and refractive errors, back and neck pain and osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression, and dementia. Furthermore, as people age, they are more likely to experience several conditions at the same time.

Older age is also characterized by the emergence of several complex health states that tend to occur only later in life and that do not fall into discrete disease categories. These are commonly called geriatric syndromes. They are often the consequence of multiple underlying factors and include frailty, urinary incontinence, falls, delirium and pressure ulcers.

Healthy /Active ageing

“Healthy ageing” is defined by the World report on ageing and health as the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age.

UN principles for older persons

In 1991, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Principles for Older Persons, enumerating 18 entitlements for older persons — relating to independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment and dignity. The UN encouraged governments to incorporate these principles into their national programmes whenever possible.

Independence

  • Older persons should have access to adequate food, water, shelter, clothing and health care through the provision of income, family and community support and self-help.
  • Older persons should have the opportunity to work or to have access to other income-generating opportunities.
  • Older persons should be able to participate in determining when and at what pace withdrawal from the labour force takes place.
  • Older persons should have access to appropriate educational and training programmes.
  • Older persons should be able to live in environments that are safe and adaptable to personal preferences and changing capacities.
Participation
  • Older persons should remain integrated in society, participate actively in the formulation and implementation of policies that directly affect their well-being and share their knowledge and skills with younger generations.
  • Older persons should be able to seek and develop opportunities for service to the community and to serve as volunteers in positions appropriate to their interests and capabilities.
  • Older persons should be able to form movements or associations of older persons.
Care
  • Older persons should benefit from family and community care and protection in accordance with each society's system of cultural values.
  • Older persons should have access to health care to help them to maintain or regain the optimum level of physical, mental and emotional well- being and to prevent or delay the onset of illness.
  • Older persons should have access to social and legal services to enhance their autonomy, protection and care.
  • Older persons should be able to utilize appropriate levels of institutional care providing protection, rehabilitation and social and mental stimulation in a humane and secure environment.
  • Older persons should be able to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms when residing in any shelter, care or treatment facility, including full respect for their dignity, beliefs, needs and privacy and for the right to make decisions about their care and the quality of their lives.
Self-fulfilment
  • Older persons should be able to pursue opportunities for the full development of their potential.
  • Older persons should have access to the educational, cultural, spiritual and recreational resources of society.
Dignity
  • Older persons should be able to live in dignity and security and be free of exploitation and physical or mental abuse.
  • Older persons should be treated fairly regardless of age, gender, racial or ethnic background, disability or other status, and be valued independently of their economic contribution.

Ageing - scenario in India

There has been a steady rise in the population of older persons in India. The number of elder persons has increased from 76 millions in 2001 to 103.8 millions in 2011. The projection indicates that the number of 60+ in India will increase to 116.10 millions in 2016, 143.20 millions in 2021 and 173.2 millions in 2026.

General improvement in the health care facilities over the years is one of the main reasons for continuing increase in proportion of population of senior citizens. Ensuring that they not merely live longer, but lead a secure, dignified and productive life is a major challenge.

The traditional norms and values of the Indian society laid stress on showing respect and providing care for the aged. However, in recent times, society is witnessing a gradual but definite withering of the joint family system, as a result of which a large number of parents are being neglected by their families exposing to lack of emotional, physical and financial support. These older persons are facing a lot of problems in the absence of adequate social security. This clearly reveals that ageing has become a major social challenge and there is a need to provide for the economic and health needs of the elderly and to create a social milieu, which is conducive and sensitive to emotional needs of the elderly.

Main features of elderly population in India

The profile of the elderly population indicates that:

  • a majority of them are in rural areas;
  • feminization of the elderly population; and
  • increase in the number of older old (persons above 80 years) and
  • a large percentage (30%) of the elderly are below the poverty line.

Sources

  1. Ageing - WHO
  2. World report on ageing and health
  3. United Nations Programme on Ageing
  4. Ageing Division, Ministry of Social Justice and empowerment
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