Senior woman and caregiver outdoors on a walk in park, talking.
(Credit: Halfpoint Images / Getty Images)

To harness the future potential of older adults, interventions to promote longer-term good health will be needed, according to a new report from the McKinsey Health Institute.

The ratio of senior adults who are dependent on others for care will more than triple between 1950 and 2050 worldwide, according to the MHI’s analysis, released Monday. At that time, the absolute number of people older than 65 will more than double to 1.6 billion individuals, growing from 9.4% to 16.5% of the world’s population, according to the authors.

People are living an estimated 20 additional years overall, but many of these years will be lived in medium or poor health, potentially increasing care needs and limiting seniors’ capabilities, they wrote. But the outlook needn’t be framed in a negative way, they proposed.

“[O]ur analysis recognizes the reality that many people will live from two to three decades past their retirement age, where one could choose to be in school at 50 and choose to be employed at 80,” MHI said in a statement accompanying the report. “Society should focus on capacity, not age, recognizing the potential for many to contribute as volunteers, advisers, community leaders, workers, board members, active family members and innovators.”

6 shifts needed

The authors proposed six “shifts” that they said could help public and private stakeholders, including those in healthcare, better support healthy aging, such as:

  • investing in the promotion of healthy aging;
  • improving measurements of health and better data; 
  • scaling interventions proven to promote healthy aging;
  • accelerating innovation across the healthy aging ecosystem;
  • unleashing the potential of all industries to enable healthy aging; and
  • empowering and motivating older adults to live to their full potential.

The authors pointed to evidence that proven interventions such as promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors and ensuring access to healthcare and medications could reduce years lived with disability by almost 30%.

These could be combined with managing age-related diseases such as early stage dementia; engaging initiatives that combat isolation and provide a sense of purpose; and using programs and technology that promote independence and aging in place, they proposed.

Humanistic approaches to care are another scalable approach to healthy aging, they added. These would ideally promote connections with direct caregivers and prioritize holistic, person-centered care, the authors wrote.

The full report, with the detailed proposals, can be found on the MHI’s website. 

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