Innovation, Collaboration Are Crucial for Healthy Aging
Diverse factors, including science and technology, have allowed people to live longer. The global population is aging at an accelerated pace, with over 1 billion people aged 60 years and older. While this active phenomenon presents considerable financial challenges for countries across the world, it also opens opportunities for several actors including healthcare, agreed industry experts.
“We saw a large evolution in the last 20 years. Living longer carries enormous financial challenges to countries. For example, by 2025, pensions will represent 6.4 percent of Mexico’s GDP. In addition, staying healthy and improving quality of life are important challenges, which in turn present the opportunity for the health industry to collaborate and offer solutions,” said Cristobal Thompson, Executive Director, AMIIF.
By 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years is forecasted to nearly double from 12 percent to 22 percent, according to WHO. Countries are facing major challenges to ensure that their health and social systems are prepared for the demands and opportunities of this demographic shift. In Mexico, between 1990 and 2020, the 60 year and older population went from 5 million to 15.1 million people, now making up 12 percent of the total population, according to INEGI. Twenty percent of those over 60 years old are not affiliated to any healthcare institution.
Seniors are common targets of stigmatization and discrimination, said Luis Miguel Gutiérrez, Director General, National Geriatrics Institute. But healthy and independent seniors contribute to the well-being of families and communities. It is a myth to portray them as passive recipients of social or health services, points PAHO, which promotes public policies and alliances toward healthy aging in the Americas. “The fact that old age is coming increasingly later offers opportunities. In Mexico, less than 5 percent of those aged 60 years or older fully rely on their families [for care and economic support],” said Gutiérrez.
Although the shift in the distribution of a country’s population toward older ages started in high-income countries, such as Japan, where 30 percent of the population is already over 60 years old, currently low and middle-income countries are experiencing the greatest change, according to WHO.
The private sector is also contributing to healthy ageing. “In Japan, similarly to Mexico, one out of every three people suffer arterial hypertension. Omron created the first home blood pressure monitor, aiming to reach zero cardiovascular events,” said Vanessa Ballarte, Executive Director Corporate Strategy and Digital Health for Latin America, Omron Health Care. Japanese-based medical devices company Omron specializes in blood pressure monitors, nebulizers, electrotherapy TENS2 devices and other innovative products and services.
Health monitoring is essential to prevention because the early detection of diseases can reduce suffering and medical costs. While remote monitoring was already advanced in certain countries, the pandemic boosted its penetration in Mexico and Latin America, said Ballarte. “It is important to educate patients so they can monitor themselves at home and raise awareness on the importance of monitoring.”
Working toward healthy ageing requires the participation of the public sector, civil society, academia and the private sector. However, care for seniors is still framed around chronic disease management rather than in the person, said Gutiérrez. “Seniors are usually excluded from clinical trials due to their complexity, but they still are part of the real world. Clinical trials are an important area of opportunity.”
Technology continues to play an important role as an enabler and paradigm-shifter within the health industry. When it comes to the implementation of digital tools, it is important that patients of all ages understand how to use them but this becomes crucial with products targeted at seniors, said Ballarte.
Digital tools are not adopted in the same way by people of different ages and socio-economical situations, said Thompson. “We have to work toward greater equity in the use of technology. (Digital tools) must become massive, patient-centric and inclusive. We will adopt simple technology but for more complex tools we must all educate ourselves, from the medical community to people in general.” Technology adoption requires collaboration between public and private actors to make a real impact, he added.
To democratize and massify technology in Mexico, regulations play a key role, said Ballarte. “Currently, there is not enough regulation regarding telemedicine and remote monitoring. Software is not considered as medical equipment yet. In terms of data security, companies work under high-standard security schemes but it is important to have a clear regulatory framework for the entire industry to benefit.”
Globally, the growth of the share of the population aged 60 years and older is a reality. The multiple challenges and opportunities that this paradigm shift has brought must be tackled jointly by all actors involved, from the general public to private and public sectors, taking advantage of technology advancements.