World life expectancy for persons 70 or older grew two years, 1990 to 2019, but disability rates were constant

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Findings for more than 200 countries to be available to stakeholders globally

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SAN ANTONIO – Persons aged 70 years or more worldwide were found to live more than two years longer in 2019 than in 1990, with increases in almost all of more than 200 countries, according to a landmark study just released.

However, disability rates of that population were constant over that period, suggesting a need to enhance public health and intervention programs to improve well-being among older adults.

Those results highlighted the study co-led by Georgios A. Kotsakis, DDS, MS, associate professor of periodontics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio), with a team from the University of Washington. Importantly, their findings will be available to key stakeholders, such as the World Health Organization and local governments to update life expectancy per gender in each country of the world.

The team included nearly 400 epidemiologists who participated in the effort with the “Global Burden of Diseases Ageing” group, an international research consortium, to capture the first global burden of aging on population health. Their study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institute on Aging through a grant awarded to Dr. Kotsakis, was published March 10 in the medical journal, The BMJ.

Georgios A. Kotsakis, DDS, MS

“We provided global and country-specific estimates for more than 200 countries on life expectancy and the main causes of disability in older adults worldwide in this study,” Dr. Kotsakis said.

“With the global population experiencing extra years of life, the health and well-being of older adults is critical so that they can continue to be actively engaged in society,” he said. “However, if added years are spent in poor health, health systems will face increased health care expenses due to increased demand.”

While it’s generally accepted that the global population is living longer, and aging differently, global epidemiological data on the burden of diseases in persons aged 70 or more had been lacking.

The new study found that adults in that age group lived substantially longer in 2019 than in 1990 primarily because of decreases in death due to cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases. However, the researchers attribute the flat line in disability rates over that time to functional decline, injuries due to falls, hearing loss and back pain.

The study calls for global monitoring of mortality and morbidity risk factors in order to sustain advanced research and health policy among older adults.

Persons aged 70 or more living in high-income countries and regions with better health care access and quality were found to experience the highest life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.

So, the researchers called for targeted strategies for countries with lower sociodemographic development and health care quality, aimed particularly at functional ability, sensory organ deficits, symptoms of pain and unintentional falls.

Programs need to address country-specific sociodemographic and cultural development because universal plans might be inefficient, the researchers concluded, adding that public health strategies will require a coherent aging health policy and consistent collaboration.

The study could serve as a healthy aging benchmark for countries working to focus aging policies on key risk factors and determinants, improve health care access and quality, and lower health care costs.

For his part, Dr. Kotsakis hopes the work strengthens global and public health research and funding, as well as the importance of oral health as a critical component of healthy aging.

Global, regional, and national burden of diseases and injuries for adults 70 years and older: systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease 2019 Study

Study authors: “GBD 2019 Ageing Collaborators”

First published: March 10, 2022, The BMJ

Link to study article HERE.

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