Our planet is getting old, and I’m not talking about the ground below our feet: According to a 2007 report by the National Institute on Aging, in 2006, almost 500 million people worldwide were 65 and older. By 2030, that total is projected to increase to one billion – one in every eight of the earth’s inhabitants.
This “gray tsunami” – the result of positive advances in medicine, health care, public health and economic development – will create profound and certain changes and challenges for individuals, families, communities and government, says Yogesh Shah, M.D., DMU’s associate dean of global health. It’s imperative we plan for the tsunami, he adds, and he is: Dr. Shah is co-chairing a committee of 13 Des Moines business and community leaders to guide the metro area in becoming the first Midwestern city to qualify for the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-friendly Cities.
The challenges of global aging also will be the topic of the Heartland Global Health Consortium’s third annual conference, which will occur at DMU on Oct. 12. The conference will bring together experts, policy-makers and citizens to explore these challenges and our opportunities to address them – through services, housing, health care, transportation and myriad other areas.
Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu, in a recent editorial about our aging population, notes that Des Moines is a “good bet to live in” for young people. Forbes.com recently rated the city as the best for young professionals, and it’s often highly rated as a place to raise a family or do business.
Still, she points out, “Even as the threshold for what’s old keeps changing, one thing is certain: Most of us will eventually get there. And when we do, we’ll want to live in an age-friendly city.”
As a health care leader, as an elected official, as a policy-maker and/or as a citizen, what do you think are the most important ways to manage our inevitable gray tsunami?