Why healthy ageing?
In order to tackle the acute problem of population ageing, World Health Organization re-affirmed the “healthy ageing” framework in a recent report published in 2015. In this report, WHO recommend countries to provide adequate assistance to older adults, enabling people to be and do what they value throughout their lives.
Healthy Ageing replaces the World Health Organization’s previous Active ageing: a policy framework developed in 2002 and is the focus of WHO’s work on ageing between 2015 – 2030.
According to the World Health Organization, healthy ageing is the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age.
Functional ability is made up of the intrinsic capacity of the individual, relevant environmental characteristics, and the interactions between the individual and these characteristics. Intrinsic capacity is the composite of all the physical and mental capacities of an individual. Environments comprise all the factors in the extrinsic world that form the context of an individual’s life, such as home, community and society.
So... how does the above translate to health in old age?
- Intrinsic capacity, such as education, can impact older adults' health. More educated older adults may have better job environment, better health care and healthier lifestyle since they were young! So naturally, when they step into old age, they are in a position to exercise healthy ageing.
- Environment has a huge impact on older adults' participation in society as well. Imagine Hong Kong without the $2 transportation scheme, much fewer older adults would go out as often to socialize, volunteer and even work!
As older adults experience decreased intrinsic capacity, gradually they lose functional ability, which prevents them from experiencing healthy aging in old age. However, a well-planned supportive environment could compensate for the loss of intrinsic capacity and retain older adults’ functional abilities at an acceptable level even when an individual suffers from substantial loss of intrinsic capacity.
What is a well-planned & supportive environment?
WHO stated that a well-planned civic and health system should be "person-centered", as the capabilities of different older adults could vary a great deal.
While some may have the physical ability of a 30 year-old, and some may need others to care for in their daily lives.
What should we do?
For those who have higher functional ability, the society should provide them with more opportunities to work, volunteer, socialize and contribute in different ways. For those who have less functional ability, the society should provide them with the most autonomous and dignified care, such as providing transitional support from hospital to homes, and letting them age in place as much as possible.
It would be unwise to think all older adults are the same, and thereby set "one policy for all".
On the individual level, we must remember that no two older adults are the same. Mui, Chi & Chui (2008) stated that some people may think all older adults are 3Ds (Dependent, Depressed and Demented). If that is what you have in mind, you may have fallen into the trap of "ageism"!
Mui, A., Chi, I., & Chui, E. W. T. (2008). Gerontological Social Work for the 21st Century.
Healthy Ageing, like Active Ageing, emphasizes the need for action across multiple sectors and enabling older people to remain a resource to their families, communities and economies.
World Health Organization