We are all born and we all die. Happily for many of us the time between these two events is increasing. Advances in science and medicine have led to sustained increases in life expectancy in many countries. In developed countries, life expectancy is increasing by an astonishing five hours every day. Good news for those expecting to live over ten years longer than their grandparents’ generation; however, this presents a significant challenge to society. Older peoples’ needs are very different to those of the younger population, in particular their healthcare and care needs.
As the articles in this issue demonstrate, more older people will mean we face a growing burden of disease. Older people are more likely to live with multiple health conditions, from dementia to heart disease to cancers. Older people are also increasingly (and rightly) expecting more from what they are able to do in their later years and the support that they will receive if their health deteriorates. Meanwhile, there are fewer people available to provide care as the working age population shrinks relative to the older population. These opposing forces will lead to strong new pressures being placed on ageing societies. Individuals will have to accept a greater role in taking responsibility for their own care and for the care of those closest to them – notably in the developed countries.
Greater demand for more and higher quality care along with constrained supply means there has never been a more important time to consider the implications that ageing will have on societies and so I am pleased to see this as the focus for this issue of A Global Village.
Developing countries may not yet be facing quite the same pressures as developed countries, but in time they will and there is much to be learnt from a global approach. The challenges are substantial, but by no means insurmountable and progress in tackling them is being made.
Society has advanced to allow life expectancy to be the highest it has ever been. It must now focus on how to ensure that those reaching old age do so, as far as possible, free from ill-health and when illness does strike we must ensure that care is of the highest quality. Looking at the innovations and advances that are already being made in this area we can feel optimistic about the future, but only if we continue our relentless search for new and better ways of balancing demand and supply.
Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett
Newly appointed Chairman of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College. A self-described reformed banker, Sir Thomas was formerly Chief Executive of Marie Curie Cancer Care and has a particular interest in palliative care.