The world’s population is getting older. In the next 50 years, the number of older people will nearly quadruple, growing from about 600 million to almost 2 billion people. Today, one in every ten is 60 years and older. By 2050, this will become one out of every five, and by 2150, one third of the people in the world are expected to be 60 years of age or older.

In some developed countries and countries with economies in transition, birth rates have fallen below replacement levels, and the number of older persons will be greatest in developing countries, where the older population is expected to quadruple over the next 50 years. Eighteen out of the 20 countries in the world with the highest percentages of older people are in WHO’s European Region. In these countries, between 13.2% and 17.9% of the population are over 65 years old.

As the cost of health care continues to rise rapidly, coupled with this ageing population demographic in the western world, pressure on direct clinical resources continues to grow at an alarming rate. The health of people around the world is worsening and the global population is getting older. Some 861 million people worldwide with chronic diseases are using up to 85 percent of health-care spending. Health-care providers are more than 10 years behind other big business when it comes to the utilisation of technology.

Europe has to face enormous economic challenges (pensions, health care systems) due to its ageing population and shrinking workforce. At the same time, population ageing also poses social problems. The social context is gradually changing (more women at work, dispersed families) and old people who are house bound are often left to face social exclusion. Differences in financing structures result in health inequalities among European countries, which diversity will further increase with upcoming rounds of EU enlargement.

In 1950 European countries had a population of age 65+ of some 45 million; in 1995 the population of age 65+ had already more than doubled to 101 million; by 2050 Europe will have 173 million people age 65+.

The picture in the US is similar to that of Europe. As Figure 1.1 shows, the US population growth of three age groups for 1975, 2000 and projected for 2025. The age 65+ segment is increasing almost twice as fast as the rest of the population. (Source: US Census Bureau)

Currently government spending in the US on health runs at more than $1.5 trillion. This level of expenditure has resulted in a government that is struggling to provide prescription drug benefits for older people and social security benefits.

This trend is global. The worldwide population over age 65 is expected to more than double from 357 million in 1990 to 761 million by 2025. Older adults already constitute one-fifth of the total population of much of Western Europe and Japan. In many countries, the ratio of workers to retirees will drop to 2:1, which will profoundly affect national economies and business productivity.

Clearly, “business as usual” will not work for healthcare systems. There is a pressing need to invent a different way of caring for a rapidly growing population of older adults, historically the most expensive demographic to treat while reducing already unsustainable healthcare costs that plagues virtually every major government.

The TRIL Centre has a novel approach to dealing with the increase in our ageing population globally. Through its multi-disciplinary research of viable new technologies which can support older people living independently, the Centre’s objective is to assist older people around the world to live longer from wherever they call home, while minimising their dependence on others and improving their routine interactions with healthcare systems.

1. N. R. Hooyman and H.A. Kiyak, Social Gerontology: A Multidisciplinary Perspective, 6th ed., Allyn and Bacon, 2002.