I used strong words in my blogpost’s title on purpose. Of course, there is no such thing as an “elderly epidemic,” and IT is not a cure-all diseases solution for our senior citizens. As a strong advocate of IT, I think that advances in healthcare and IT make it possible for our parents and grandparents to have a quality life in retirement, assisted both by loving people and IT solutions.
We live in a lovely neighborhood, surrounded by beautiful houses, many parks, green spaces. Families living here are in different stages of their life: we are the family with small children, but we also have freshly retired couples, older people living alone. The oldest of our neighbor is Agnes; she is past 90, sadly lives alone (her husband died two years ago, and her older son passed away two months ago). Recently her condition deteriorated, often we found her wandering down the street, clueless as to where is she and what is she doing there. Her caretakers are waiting for a space in a nursing home to open, to have her under constant surveillance. Until then, we, the neighbors are her voluntary “watchdogs.”
For now, she is the exception on our street, but as the overall population grows older and older, this situation sadly will become the norm. Let’s take a quick peek at what the data is telling us!
According to the latest UN data, globally, population aged 60 or over is growing faster than all younger age groups. As fertility declines and life expectancy rises, the proportion of the people above a certain age increases as well. This phenomenon, known as population aging, is occurring throughout the world. In 2017, there were an estimated 962 million people aged 60 or over in the world, comprising 13 percent of the global population. The population aged 60 or above is growing at a rate of about 3 percent per year.
What is worrisome, that currently, Europe has the highest percentage of the population aged 60 or over (25 percent). Rapid aging will occur in other parts of the world as well so that by 2050 all regions of the world except Africa will have nearly a quarter or more of their populations at ages 60 and above. The number of older persons in the world is projected to be 1.4 billion in 2030 and 2.1 billion in 2050 and could rise to 3.1 billion in 2100. Over the next few decades, a further increase in the population of older persons is almost inevitable, given the size of the cohorts born in recent decades.
Older adults suffer a variety of chronic diseases that can decrease the quality of their life rapidly, but they can also become a burden for their caring relatives very quickly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that arthritis affects 49.7 percent of all adults over 65, and can lead to pain and lower quality of life for some seniors.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that one in nine people age 65 and older, which is about 11 percent, have Alzheimer’s disease, but because the diagnosis is challenging, it’s difficult to know precisely how many people are living with this chronic condition. Still, experts acknowledge that cognitive impairment has a significant impact on senior health across the spectrum, from issues of safety and self-care to the cost burden of care, either in the home or a residential facility.
Moreover, these are only two of the chronic diseases that can affect seniors, we can also talk about Parkinson’s, or about osteoporosis that can contribute to becoming less mobile and potentially disabled, as senior falls and has a fracture. Because our home is full of tripping hazards: loose rugs, slippery bathroom floors, stairs.
Healthcare IT can have an enormous impact on our senior’s life. As to which healthcare IT solutions, devices, and services are already available for the elderly and which are just in the wishful thinking phase, I will let you know in my next post.
Author: Laszlo Varga