By Mac McLean • The Bulletin

M ore than one out of every four Americans — 27.9 percent of the population — will be 60 or older by the year 2050.

This statistic, while somewhat startling, is a demographic shift predicted to change the face of the world over the next 35 years as life expectancy rates continue to improve and childhood illnesses no longer prevail.

“For the first time in history most people can expect to live into their 60s and beyond,” stated a recently released report done by the United Nations’ Population Division and the World Health Organization.

The number of people who are 60 or older will more than double between 2015 and 2050. That age group will make up 22 percent of the world’s total population when this transition is complete, data projections show. The report’s authors called on world leaders to guarantee older people can continue being productive members of society as long as they live.

“The pace of population ageing (sic) is much faster than in the past,” the report states. “All countries face major challenges to ensure that their health and social systems are ready to make the most of this demographic shift.”

According to the population division’s estimates, 900.9 million people are currently 60 or older. That number is expected to climb to 1 billion by 2020, when older adults will outnumber children who are less than 5 years old. The numbers will continue to go up each decade: 1.4 billion by 2030, 1.7 billion by 2040, and 2.1 billion by 2050.

The new population trend is largely due to advances made in second- and third-world countries to fight infectious diseases, and prevent childbirth deaths.

More developed regions like Europe, North America, Australia and Japan continue to improve life expectancy rates, making it possible for people to live at least two more decades after reaching their 60th birthday.

The report’s authors are happy with these projections because the longer a person lives the more likely he or she is to take on a second career, further their education, pursue a long-neglected passion or take on another activity that will help society as a whole.

However, they also warned these contributions could be lost if world leaders did nothing to address some common health conditions — back and neck pain, cataracts, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression, dementia, hearing loss and osteoarthritis — that continue to plague aging people.

Recommendations for addressing the issue: recommit to the principles of healthy aging, make sure health systems are prepared to deal with a wave of new geriatric cases, build more long-term care systems and create an age-friendly environment where older people are treated with respect.

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, mmclean@bendbulletin.com

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