September 18, 2011 | The Guardian
This week the United Nations is bringing together world leaders to discuss the global health crisis of non-communicable diseases (NCDs): strokes, cancer, heart attacks, lung disease and dementia (Report, 17 September). These diseases are on the rise like never before: by 2030, the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that the top four killers in the world will be NCDs. What is most striking is that their impact is felt most on those over the age of 60, yet the emphasis of the summit is clearly on younger people. According to the WHO's own statistics, 75% of deaths from NCDs globally occur in people aged 60 and over – an estimated 27 million people. Population ageing, as well as lifestyle factors, is inextricably linked to this global challenge.
The rise of NCDs is not a problem isolated to wealthier countries. According to some estimates, the over-60 population in developing countries is increasing 3% per year (compared to 2% in developed countries) and will grow from 473 million people in 2009 to 1.6 billion in 2050.
An ageing population brings a new set of critical health challenges. Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, for example, affect 12% of those over 65 and more than 30% of those over 85. Over the next two decades, the number of people aged 65 and older suffering from diabetes is expected to increase by 134%. And then there's cancer, which, according to one British study, is six times more likely to affect women aged 60 to 64 than women aged 35 to 38.
To win the fight against NCDs, governments and stakeholders must come together to create solutions that are appropriate for people of all ages, with no age limits being set for good health.
Richard Blewitt, HelpAge International
Michelle Mitchell, Age UK
Marc Wortmann, Alzheimer's Disease International
Michael Hodin, Global Coalition on Aging
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