Living Longer is Not Always Living Better: Aging in Latin America

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), by 2030 there will be more people over 60 than under 15 in the region. This is the panorama of aging in Latin America.

Senior woman looking out the window

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LatinAmerican Post | Julieta Gutiérrez

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Leer en español: Vivir más no siempre es vivir mejor: el envejecimiento en América Latina

Despite the fact that life expectancy in Latin America increased between 2000 and 2019, having the expectation of more years of life is not always synonymous with better quality in aging. The aging process of the region's population continues to accelerate and, eventually, the population pyramid will reverse. This reality has brought great challenges to address the health of older men and women.

In an effort to better understand this situation, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has launched a series of studies that seek to analyze the different aspects of aging and the health of the elderly in Latin America. According to the regional director of PAHO, Juan Barbosa, these investigations will make it possible to identify and address the challenges that accelerated aging will present in the region.

Sociodemographic and economic situation of aging in Latin America

The aging of the population carries important implications for public health, such as the increased demand for health care services, the prevalence of chronic diseases, the need for long-term care, and the shrinking workforce. In addition, the aging of the population is expected to contribute to rising health care costs.

On the other hand, research reveals that anxiety disorders and depression are the most common, affecting around 10% of the population. It is also highlighted that the lack of resources and the scarcity of adequate attention to mental health problems can cause serious consequences for the health of the inhabitants; where people with this type of pathology have a much lower life expectancy compared to the general population. This announces that it is necessary to work on loneliness problems in older people, who are already facing countries in Europe or Asia.

Regarding health inequalities, it is indicated that they persist in the region and significant differences are observed in mortality and morbidity according to socioeconomic level, gender, and geographic location. "Although women survive longer and reach older ages, the inequalities they experienced throughout their life cycle are strongly expressed at this stage of their lives, such that they present lower levels of schooling and literacy and access to pensions and must continue to be linked to precarious work," the report highlights.

Situation and challenges of healthy aging in Latin America

This second part of the investigation, carried out by the (PAHO), highlights the following data:

  • The population over 60 years of age is growing rapidly in the region, from 64 million in 2000 to 158 million in 2020.
  • The burden of chronic diseases is high in older people; being cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases the main causes of mortality.
  • The visual and hearing health of the elderly is a growing problem in the region. It is estimated that 12% of the population over 60 years of age is blind or visually impaired, and 33% is hearing impaired.
  • Despite the advances in health care in Latin America, there are still significant inequalities in access to health services and in their results. Indigenous, rural, and low-income populations are particularly vulnerable.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on older people, who are at higher risk of serious complications and death from the disease.

These challenges must be addressed through appropriate and effective health policies and programs that focus on the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, the promotion of healthy lifestyles, and the improvement of access to quality health services. Likewise, the creation of environments and communities that are friendly to older adults is key.

A decade of healthy aging in Latin America

The main challenges faced by older adults in the region include discrimination, abuse and violence, social exclusion, lack of access to justice and limited citizen participation. In this way, PAHO points out that it is essential to protect the human rights of older persons, recognizing them as subjects of law and promoting their active participation in society.

In this sense, it is necessary for societies to adapt to provide greater opportunities for older people, who will be more and more. It is necessary to create services that allow them to live fully and enjoy education, culture, and leisure as well.

We suggest you read: The Latin American Diet may Influence the Development of Type 2 Diabetes

Technology and sexual diversity in aging

On the other hand, there are emerging issues that are being addressed regarding aging, since they are becoming more relevant as the population ages and changes. Some of these highlights are:

Closing the gaps: the study also points out the importance of including sexual and gender diversity in health care programs and policies for older people. In addition, emphasis is placed on the need to promote research on the health of LGBTI older people and, likewise, it seeks to strengthen the capacity of health personnel to provide adequate and sensitive care to the needs of this population.

Include older people in emergency planning: older people must be included in emergency response plans and in the obligation to ensure that contingency plans are accessible and understandable to this population group.

Harnessing the benefits of technologies for healthy aging: This phase of the study emphasizes the potential of digital technologies to improve the health and well-being of older people. In addition, it emphasizes the importance of ensuring that these technologies are accessible to all.

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