People are living longer and, in some parts of the world, healthier lives. This represents one of the crowning achievements of the last century but also a significant challenge. Longer lives must be paid for. Societal aging may affect economic growth and many other issues, including the sustainability of families, the ability of states and communities to provide resources for older citizens, and international relations. The Global Burden of Disease, a study conducted by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, with partial support from the U.S. National Institute on Aging, predicts a very large increase in disability caused by increases in age-related chronic disease in all regions of the world. In a few decades, the loss of health and life worldwide will be greater from noncommunicable or chronic diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes) than from infectious diseases, childhood diseases, and accidents.
Despite the weight of scientific evidence, the significance of population aging and its global implications have yet to be fully appreciated. There is a need to raise awareness about not only global aging issues but also the importance of rigorous cross-national scientific research and policy dialogue that will help us address the challenges and opportunities of an aging world. Preparing financially for longer lives and finding ways to reduce aging-related disability should become national and global priorities. Experience shows that for nations, as for individuals, it is critical to address problems sooner rather than later. Waiting significantly increases the costs and difficulties of addressing these challenges.
This report paints a compelling picture of the impact of population aging on nations. It provides a succinct description of population trends that are transforming the world in fundamental ways. We hope this information will stimulate dialogue about biomedical, economic, and behavioral issues and encourage international study to determine the best ways to address this universal human experience. We trust that members of the global community will be inspired to share their recommendations and their experiences so that we can all plan for the aging of our world’s population. We are, after all, planning for our own futures.
Paula J. Dobriansky, Ph.D.
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Department of State
Richard M. Suzman, Ph.D.
Director, Behavioral and Social Research Program National Institute on Aging National Institutes of Health
Richard J. Hodes, M.D.
Director National Institute on Aging National Institutes of Health