Aging populations: the health and quality of life of the elderly

De Luca d’Alessandro E, Bonacci S, Giraldi G.
Clin Ter. 2011;162(1):e13-8.

SOURCE:  Department of Public Health and Infectious Diseases, “Sapienza” University of Rome, Italy.

The progressive tendency for the age structure of the population to shift towards the elderly has been observed in all developed countries and this has important implications for health, society, economics and epidemiology. According to the most recent estimates for the world, the number of persons aged over 60 years will double from the present number, 756 to 1400 millions by 2030. In Italy, by the year 2050, 34.6% of the population will be aged more than 65 years. This will have important implications for health. There are medical conditions that occur almost exclusively among the elderly and these are sometimes referred to as syndromes or geriatric pathologies; other conditions that can occur at younger ages, may present with different symptoms, and cause complications in the elderly. More than just the single pathologies, the presence of two or more conditions simultaneously may have a critical impact on the health status of the elderly. As their ages increase, the elderly may be considered “frail”; factors, not only physical but also psychological cognitive and social, contribute to this syndrome and all must be considered together in the diagnosis and treatment of the elderly patient. These subjects are at greater risk of physical and cognitive decline, disability and death. As the elderly are an increasing fraction of the total patient load, their problems require that the structure and organization of health services be accordingly adjusted and also that the cultural and professional training of doctors and other medical personnel is appropriate. As a consequence, the objective of governments should be to promote the health and the quality of life of the elderly and this would include primary secondary and tertiary prevention applied in a variety of different settings. The choice of the preventive measures should be determined by the general health status of the elderly individuals, of whom 60-75% are classified as healthy, 20-30% are diagnosed as suffering chronic diseases, and 2-10% are regarded as “frail”. For pathologies which do not require hospitalization, among the other existing services there is also Integrated Home Help (Assistenza Domiciliare Integrata, ADI) and Medically Assisted Residences (Residenze Sanitarie Assistenziale, RSA).