Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Ageing Population: Are Current Trends to be Trusted?

A few things I've been exposed to lately have given rise to the question:
"Is the ageing population trend to be trusted?"
My old supervisor and joint #1 reason for being a biomechanical engineer Garth Johnson has organised a conference on engineering for the ageing population. This is a hot topic, as there is lots of data to suggest that the old will soon outnumber the young and that our increasingly long lives will put extra pressure on health and medical resources. That much is indisputable. Right?

Maybe it isn't. I also read a piece from Michael Blastland on population trends, that showed all attempts to predict future population to be basically guesses that rarely resemble reality. This is only half the story for predicting the split between old and young in the future: mortality is the other key factor. And nudging me to question the statistics on this is a conversation I've had with my Wife that goes along the lines of:
"Is our generation (or the next) going to live as long on average as the current elderly generation?"
Maybe we should consider this. Was the current generation of over 70s as obese on average as our generation is? I don't know, but I'd hazard a guess at no. Did the current set of over 60s smoke and drink as much as we do in our 30s? Again, I don't know, but maybe we should ask these questions when attempting to extrapolate figures from current trends. There are a lot of mechanisms that will affect the health and mortality of the elderly population in two, three and four decades "in the pipe", that I'd suggest we won't understand until they are revealed to us.

Now I'm not suggesting for a minute that we don't do our level best to cater for the ageing population: the elderly are already under-funded and under-cared-for. The ageing conference should be a great success (I hope) and generate lots of interest in engineering the health of the elderly. After all, we're preparing for our own futures by doing this.

No comments:

Post a Comment