The Health Section

The ticking time bomb: Aging population

The world is getting older. The day is rapidly approaching when the world will have more people aged 65 and older than children younger than 5 years old. In the U.S., older adults will account for about 20 percent of the population by 2030. With increased age comes rising risks of diseases, disabilities and costs.

Click to read the white paper

In a white paper published in October 2017, Aetna International is calling for greater public awareness of the universal cost burden of aging. It is also calling for the adoption of a multi-disciplinary, holistic approach to proactively connect with and educate members about their health and well-being, helping to ensure that people have a greater “healthspan” along with their increased “lifespan.”

The white paper, called “The ticking time bomb: Aging Population,” describes how quickly populations around the world are getting older and how countries have been impacted before its health care systems could adapt.

“The aging time bomb has already exploded in certain demographics, and in other countries it is set to explode. Countries such as Turkey, which have a relatively young population, will face the same health and resource crisis as seen in the UK, U.S. and other developed countries in the future if action is not taken now,” said Mitesh Patel, a medical director at Aetna International. “For those countries who are already facing the fall out, we need to ensure we’re empowering younger generations to help them avoid the same fate and to avoid a cumulative drain on the country’s resources.”

The World Health Organization reports ischemic heart disease, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are some of the top causes of death among people older than 60 years old. The common key risk factor in each case? Age and lifestyle.

Among Aetna International’s members older than 50, the nine most common conditions are: hypertension; lower back pain; hyperlipidaemia, or high cholesterol; ischemic heart disease; type 2 diabetes; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; osteoarthritis; asthma and glaucoma. With the exception of low back pain, these are noncommunicable diseases exacerbated by lifestyle choices; although genetic predisposition can also contribute to the statistics.

As more people need treatment for various diseases and conditions, medical costs also rise. In an analysis of claims data among 700,000 individuals between 2014 and 2016, Aetna International found the medical spend on members over 70 is almost three times the spend of members between the ages of 50 and 59.

To fix this, Aetna International believes there needs to be a shift in health care; a focus on proactive care, rather than reactive care. In addition, a framework encouraging health behaviors for all ages of a population is needed. This system, the authors wrote, will provide proactive education and support to help prevent chronic diseases.

“As the population ages, health care systems must adapt,” the authors wrote in the white paper. “Otherwise, they’ll be overwhelmed by a ‘silver tsunami’ of patients.”

Aetna International has already taken actions to help its members. It’s focused on population-based based care models – working with members to keep them healthy and helping them beyond their illness. Aetna International is also using analytics to identify and help members, who may need additional care and resources.

“Not only do we need to urgently adopt our health care systems in countries already experiencing the silver tsunami,” Patel said, “we also need to learn from the situation, helping to prevent younger generations and younger populations from succumbing in the future.”