LONDON, UK, October 1, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A new study measuring the wellbeing of older people in 91 countries says that most countries are ill-prepared to handle the consequences of a rapidly aging population coupled with a collapsing birth rate.
The study, released today to mark the UN's International Day of Older Persons, was undertaken by HelpAge International, an organization that advocates for the elderly, and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
The study analyzed older people's income security, health status, education and employment, and enabling, or age-friendly, environment in countries around the world in order to show how the elderly are faring now and what needs to be done to meet their needs in the future.
“The Global AgeWatch Index is the first-ever overview of the wellbeing of older people around the world,” said a press release from HelpAge International.
“As the number and proportion of older people increases at an unprecedented rate, this ground-breaking report illustrates how the world is adapting to this new reality by ranking more than 90 countries in terms of how their older populations are faring.”
The Index ranks Sweden at the top of the list for the social and economic well-being of its elders, followed by Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada. The US is in eighth place while the UK is in 13th. Afghanistan is at the bottom of the list.
The report reveals that current wealth is not the only factor determining the well being of seniors, with countries such as Sri Lanka, Bolivia and Mauritius being ranked above several richer nations.
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“The global population is growing older, thanks to improved diets, better sanitation, medical advances and greater prosperity, as well as falling birth rates,” said Silvia Stefanoni, the interim chief executive of HelpAge International.
“The continual exclusion of ageing from national and global agendas is one of the biggest obstacles to meeting the needs of the world's ageing population,” she explained.
“By giving us a better understanding of the quality of life of women and men as they age, this new index can help us focus our attention on where things are going well and where we have to make improvements.”
However, Stefanoni warned that developing countries face the greatest challenges because demographic changes are now progressing fastest in the developing world. Many of these countries, which she says will, in the space of a generation, be home to eight out of ten of the world’s older people, need to implement policies now that take into account the reality of what some have called the looming demographic winter.
“These unstoppable forces shaping our societies over the coming decades are not yet matched by efforts to ensure that the right policies and actions are in place to create a world in which all generations can flourish. Responding to population ageing is a challenge for all countries, but greatest for developing countries that are often the least prepared for the changes underway,” Stefanoni said.
“The world is ageing fast. By 2030, there will be more people over 60 than under 10. Already there are more adults over 60 than children under 5,” the introduction to the Index states.
Professor Sir Richard Jolly of the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, noted in the preface to the report that the Index challenges countries in every part of the world to prepare for a rapidly aging population.
“The report’s ranking of countries in terms of the needs and opportunities of older people shows that a country’s GNP neither guarantees good living for older people nor is an obstacle to improving their situation,” Jolly said.
“Older people in poorer countries often have better lives on average in several key respects than those in somewhat richer ones. The index of older people thus serves as a challenge to governments and community groups to raise their sights as to what is possible.
“As the number and proportion of older people rises in many countries, the importance of these lessons cannot be overstated.”
The Global AgeWatch Index is available here.