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Brief analytical summaries or syntheses #51

Preventive care and healthy ageing: a global perspective


Published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, this report investigates the challenges and pressures that ageing populations put on healthcare systems and economies worldwide. It includes case studies of eight countries: Brazil, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Africa, the UK and the US.


The world is ageing rapidly, and this is good news. It means that people are living longer and recovering more frequently from acute diseases. But it also poses a grave challenge: a world that is barely able to meet the healthcare needs of its existing population is having to take on the costlier healthcare needs of hundreds of millions of older people. Government policymakers will have to find new ways to promote healthy ageing—and will have to find them soon.

Analysis and results

Preventive care measures are often focused on particular diseases or health challenges, rather than integrated as part of overall care for the elderly. Thus, healthy ageing programmes will fail unless preventive strategies are incorporated into the larger healthcare system and initiatives like urban planning and education are also implemented.

Policymakers in wealthier countries have begun to act. They are now considering a variety of preventive care models designed to improve workplace programmes and increase community-based care systems, as well as pilot schemes to integrate social and health services.

Active and engaged

Keeping older people socially and mentally engaged, whether through exercise, employment or social activities, can have measurable results in maintaining their health. Local governments often take the lead in these programmes, although national efforts are also being implemented. Companies also have a role to play.

Community and tailored services

Older people also need transport, recreation and other community support services to help them remain mobile and independent. As more and more of the world’s population, including the elderly, lives in cities, the WHO’s Age-Friendly Cities Guide calls for urban centres to make structures and services accessible to older people with varying needs and capabilities. These services will become more important as traditional family structures break down.

Integrated care

In countries such as the US and the UK, many public health officials are stressing the need for “integrated care”. This means different things to different people. Increasingly, however, policymakers stress the type of integrated care that brings social services to preventive care programmes, helping older people remain mobile and physically independent, in addition to reducing their vulnerability to illness and accidents.

Whatever the model, successful ageing policies require a wide range of preventive and other measures. To make these measures effective, policymakers need to work with a variety of partners, from businesses and non-profits to social workers and community nurses.


The challenges of a rapidly ageing world are becoming obvious. Millions of older people are increasingly in need of care but are woefully underserved. The costs of taking care of them are mounting. At the same time, rapidly rising chronic diseases are putting additional pressure on healthcare budgets. Governments that fail to address this challenge could find increasing disease loads a threat to economic growth.

Healthy ageing programs offer a powerful solution to these challenges. They can provide the elderly with affordable, effective healthcare and help them lead active, productive lives. They can also help to reduce the rising costs of care, and prevent ageing individuals from becoming a drain on a country’s resources. All these benefits should make preventive care particularly attractive to governments during a prolonged period of sluggish global growth. Preventive care will require new investment, but countries can reap significant cost savings if they rethink their existing delivery systems and remove structural obstacles. By breaking down the barriers between social and medical services, governments can deliver care to their elderly that is both better coordinated and more cost-effective. Successful preventive care strategies are certainly complex. The best solutions will come when people from different disciplines work together: economists, epidemiologists, technologists, community care workers and medical, public health and resource professionals.

For governments that find the right mix of preventive care and healthy lifestyle promotion, the benefits will be twofold. The individual wellbeing of older people will improve, but there will also be an impact on the country’s bottom line. A collectively healthy, independent older population can make positive contributions to the economy and to society that, as global populations continue to age, will become increasingly valuable.

Implications and recommendations

“Ageing is the driver of the deficit issue in most developed economies.” It is also a looming issue for developing countries. For this reason, it is critically important to determine which healthy ageing initiatives offer the greatest return on investment, and then implement them. Immunisation, for example, is one of the most cost-effective preventive measures for older people but is, unfortunately, often under-used.

Promoting healthy ageing requires countries to do more than simply react to health issues by diagnosing and tackling diseases. To fend off diseases before they arise, or to mitigate their worst effects, countries must promote mental and physical health initiatives and provide services that encourage older people to remain mobile, independent and socially active. This type of preventive care faces a host of obstacles, but is the best way to improve health outcomes in a rapidly ageing world.


Preventive care and healthy ageing : a global perspective