February 29, 2024

Preparing for the ageing tsunami

Hi there,

I wonder if we are really prepared for the immense
ethical challenges of an ageing population. The number of people over 60 in developing
countries will rise from around 8% in 2000 to 20% in 2050. Governments are painfully
aware – if not prepared – for a steep increase in health costs. But how can
they possibly ensure that all elderly are treated with dignity in their declining
years, even if they are demented or frail?

More and more stories of shameful neglect
and abuse are emerging. An article in the Los
Angeles Times
this week reported that a woman had been found not guilty of criminal
neglect of a senile aunt. “The bed-bound woman who’d suffered from dementia
and shied away from doctors weighed just over 35 pounds and was covered in bedsores,
some so deep they bared bone. A metal rod from hip surgery was visible.”

This was almost too painful to read. A researcher
in the management of advanced illness told the newspaper that this incident was
exceptional – at the moment. “But this is not going to be an unusual case in
a few years.”

It seems to be happening already in the UK,
where revelations of scandalous neglect of the elderly followed by government oaths
to fix the system seem to be regular events in the media calendar. In the past week
two scandals broke, as BioEdge
reports below
. And this is just the beginning of the rising tide of ageing.
How will the elderly fare in ageing countries (like China or Iran) without a
safety net? What do you think?


Michael Cook