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For those of us of a “certain age,” what we call that “certain age” can be a touchy subject as I was reminded when I recently attended the Old-timers Game at Dodger Stadium.  Old-timer conjures up an image with which at least one of the “old-timers” in attendance did not identify. Jerry Hairston, Jr., a 40-something youngster in a group whose oldest members were over 80, suggested that they all be referred to as “legacy players.”  Several players who took the field were well into their 60s, still fit and active enough to play a decent game of baseball and slug a ball 375 feet to the left field fence of Dodger Stadium. They certainly did not fit the grizzled image that the label “old-timer” tends to conjure up.
 

Granted those "legacy players" were professional athletes and far fitter in their prime than most. But for all of us, more healthful lifestyles and the medical advances of recent decades mean that, while we may be graying, we still feel young.  We want to remain active as long as possible.  We want to be considered valued members of our communities.  Due to our sheer numbers, our longer lives are causing social shifts and have enormous implications for our nations because they impact every aspect of governance and economics: housing, employment, healthcare, infrastructure, social protection, and even education.

United Nations demographic studies indicate that the proportion of the world’s population that is over 60 years of age will not only increase but accelerate in the coming decades.  The number of people over the age of 80  is growing faster than the overall number of elderly people; it is expected to triple between 2015 and 2050 so that 1 in 5 people will be over the age of 80 by 2050.

Take a look at the following age pyramids to see how each region stacks up.

  

 

 

As you can see, Europe is expected by 2050 to have the greatest percentage of residents over the age of 60 (36.6 %) with 10 percent being over the age of 80. As a region, Asia ranks second with a projected percentage of 32.6 percent over the age of 60 and 4.2 percent over the age of 80. North America is third with residents over the age of 60 forecast at 27.7 percent and those over 80 forecast at 7.7 percent. Only for Africa does projected 2050 population distribution look more like a pyramid than a column.

Of course, these numbers vary for individual countries within the regions.  Japan, which is at the forefront of this demographic shift, is forecast to have 42.3 percent of their population above the age of 60 by 2050 and 15.4 percent over the age of 80, due to increases in longevity and a very low birth rate.  

The brief videos which follow are part of the documentary “The Wisdom Years” - a much more euphonious way to describe that “certain age,” don’t you agree?  The clips were produced under the auspices of the United Nations University and the World Health Organization Kobe Centre Healthy Urbanization Project.  They offer food for thought on how to respond to demographic changes by addressing inequity in healthcare for aging populations and providing opportunities for people to remain socially and intellectually engaged throughout their lives. Most inspiringly, they introduce us to people in their wisdom years who share their secrets for aging happily and gracefully.

 

Sir Michael Marmot, WHO Commissioner, on addressing inequities in healthcare (3:02 minutes):

(If you cannot see the video below, click here).

 

Lessons learned from Happy Active Town, Kobe, Japan (3:03 minutes)

(If you cannot see the video below, click here).

 

Silver College, Kobe, Japan, encourages post-retirement careers (1:37 minutes) 

(If you cannot see the video below, click here).

 

Mr. Yamaguchi, Centenarian and master kimono weaver, Kyoto, Japan (3:48 minutes)

(If you cannot see the video below, click here).

 

Mrs. Yamazaki, Centenarian and shopkeeper, Tokyo, Japan (2:06 minutes) 

(If you cannot see the video below, click here).

 

Demographic data and population pyramids are taken from:

World Population Aging: 1950-2050, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division  http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/worldageing19502050/index.htm

 

 

 
 
 
 
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