October 1 is marked as the International Day of Older Persons every year by the United Nations General Assembly. This year’s theme is how to enable and expand the contributions of older people in their families, communities and societies at large. This year’s theme underscores the link between tapping the talents and contributions of older persons and achieving the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, which is currently undergoing its third review and appraisal process.
The International Day of Older Persons today is an opportunity to highlight the important contribution of older people and to raise awareness about the issues and challenges of ageing in our society. For many elderly persons, one of those key issues is healthcare.
Between 2015 and 2030, the number of older persons worldwide is set to increase by 56 per cent — from 901 million to more than 1.4 billion. By 2030, the number of people aged 60 and above will exceed that of young people aged 15 to 24.
According to National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), life expectancy for Omanis continues to rise, with the average age of a citizen born in 2012 rising to 76.2 years, in comparison to 74.2 years in 2003.
The number of Omanis aged 65 and above is estimated to reach 75,000 by the year 2025 — most of whom will be unable to look after themselves due to ailing physical and mental health.
“The growing emphasis on healthy living, combined with increased spending by the government on healthcare, is credited with the rise in life expectancy for Omanis”, says R R Hajjar in a report on Prevalence of ageing population in the Middle East and its implications on cancer incidence and care.
However, with an increasingly elderly population, and the accompanying chronic diseases, disability, and dependency, the need for care and support will also increase.
“This situation calls for new arrangements in healthcare and social security systems. The ability to handle the challenges brought on by an ageing population depends on the preparedness of the society”, the report suggests.
The most common diseases of the elderly are hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer.
With a rate of 22 per cent, cancer is the second most common reason for death after cardiovascular diseases.
In a recent survey in nine Arab countries, the percentage of older adults suffering from at least one chronic disease ranged from 13.1 per cent in Djibouti to 63.8 per cent in Lebanon, with a rate of 45 per cent in the majority of countries.
Behavioural risk factors also play an important role in the health and epidemiological transition. Missed opportunities to prevent or deal with risk factors earlier in life leads to an increase in the incidence and prevalence of cancer and its complications in old age.
Wide variations have been reported in the prevalence rates of cigarette smoking across Arab countries: older men in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia reveal a high prevalence of smoking ranging from 30 per cent to 50 per cent.
However, it is much lower in Oman and the UAE with 7 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively.
Epidemiological studies show that all-cause cancer incidence peaks around age of 70. Over the next few decades, the incidence of cancer in the Middle East is expected to surge in parallel with the ageing population.
In fact, registry data indicate an increasing regional burden of cancer. Naturally, it is not age alone that shapes cancer prevalence and outcome.
An indolent preventive care culture and a lackadaisical approach to cancer screening, coupled with a high prevalence of cancer-promoting behaviour such as smoking and a sedentary lifestyle, mean that many cancers present at an advanced stage when the only reasonable treatment option is palliative care.