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5 things to know about global aging

Wednesday - 10/2/2013, 3:00am  ET

The Associated Press

A new global study finds that the world is aging so fast that most countries are not prepared to support their rising numbers of elderly people.

Here's five things to know about the Global AgeWatchIndex (www.globalagewatch.org), issued Tuesday by elder advocacy group HelpAge International and the U.N. Population Fund in part to address a lack of international data on the extent and impact of global aging:

PERHAPS SURPRISING

The fastest aging countries are developing ones, such as Jordan, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Vietnam, where the number of older people will more than triple by 2050. All ranked in the bottom half of the index.

IT'S NOT SO SIMPLE

On the one hand, people living longer is a testament to advances in health care and nutrition, and advocates emphasize that the elderly should be seen not as a burden but as a resource. On the other, many countries still lack a basic social protection floor that provides income, health care and housing for their senior citizens.

DON'T DESPAIR

Many governments have resisted tackling the issue partly because it is viewed as hugely complicated, negative and costly -- which is not necessarily true, says Silvia Stefanoni, chief executive of HelpAge International. Japan and Germany, she says, have among the highest proportions of elders in the world, but also boast steady economies.

A RISING TIDE DOESN'T NECESSARILY LIFT ALL BOATS

Prosperity in itself does not guarantee protection for the old. The world's rising economic powers -- the so-called BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- rank lower in the index than some poorer countries such as Uruguay and Panama. However, the report found, wealthy nations are in general better prepared for aging than poorer ones. Sweden, where the pension system is now 100 years old, makes the top of the list because of its social support, education and health coverage, followed by Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada. The United States comes in eighth.

EVEN IN SWEDEN, AGING ISN'T WITHOUT ITS CHALLENGES

The Swedish government has suggested that people continue working beyond 65 and has cut taxes sharply for working Swedes but only marginally for retirees. "I go to lectures and museums and the theater and those kinds of things, but I probably have to stop that soon because it gets terribly expensive," says Marianne Blomberg, an 80-year-old Stockholm resident. "If you want to be active like me, it is hard. But to sit home and stare at the walls doesn't cost anything."


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