The Impact of a Growing Elderly Population


Most countries are now experiencing a remarkable demographic shift considering the growing aging population. The number of people aged 65 years or older was 524 million in 2010 globally (Odden et al., 2011). Odden et al. have indicated that this figure rise to 1.5 billion in 2050. Improvements in the quality of life and a significant decline in fertility rates have contributed to this phenomenon (King & Guralnik, 2010). The increasing number of centenarians is affecting healthcare spending patterns since age composition determines the utilization of health care services (Chapell & Hollander, 2011). The growing elderly population will undermine the effective delivery of health care services because of the rising incidences of chronic diseases.

The Burden of a Growing Aging Population

The growing aging population is an achievement since it highlights the triumphs of economic development and medical advancement. Nonetheless, an increase in the number of old people presents enormous challenges (Chapell & Holander, 2011). Bloom and Canning (2008) have indicated that advanced aging strains the existing models of health care. People are now spending more time in retirement, which increases the consumption of the pension and health services (King & Guralnik, 2010). According to Bloom and Canning, the phenomenon of population aging will instigate economic impediments because the current social insurance system is unsustainable.

The expanding elderly population has paralleled the rapid increase in health expenditure. Most countries in the developed world use the contributions from the working class to support the provision of health and social services (Chapell & Hollander, 2011). Conversely, the working-age population can no longer sustain the health care system because the elderly have imposed a substantial liability on publicly financed services (Bloom & Canning, 2008). The ripple effects of the 2008/2009 economic downturn have amplified the present challenges. Governments have been reducing public spending in an effort to limit the effects of the recession. Healthcare constitutes the sector that have suffered from massive cuts (Bermeo & Pontussion, 2012).

The healthcare industry is facing a myriad of challenges owing to the restricted flow of fiscal streams. First, health facilities use predictable financial allocations to procure medical supplies and equipment. A sudden disruption makes it difficult for health administrators to provide optimal care (Bloom & Canning, 2008). Second, the current financial crisis has forced governments to scale-down public spending (Bermeo & Pontussion, 2012). By contrast, the arbitrary reductions in government spending threaten to destabilize the delivery of critical services. The elemental objection is that care providers will require massive resources to provide optimal care to the aging population (Chapell & Hollander, 2011).

The inverse association between an aging population and medical costs has become a principal concern for governments and service providers. Age is one of the fundamental determinants of health care spending. The primary issue is that the demand for health care services and resources increases with age (King & Guralink, 2010). In addition, Barnett et al. (2012) have asserted that the rising cases of chronic diseases among the aging population are imposing additional pressure on the existing infrastructure. Most developed countries provide health care services using the epidemic and acute care models. Consequently, service providers are encountering the challenge of incorporating the needs of patients with multiple conditions into this architecture (Bodenheimer, Chen, & Bennett, 2009).

The main problem with the ongoing demographic shift is the rising prevalence of chronic diseases (Chapell & Hollander, 2011). Scientific discoveries have counterbalanced the incidences of communicable and non-communicable infections. Although advances in modern medicine have controlled the severity of chronic illnesses, a cure for these diseases remains elusive (Barnett et al., 2012). Barnett et al. have demonstrated that chronic diseases affect the elderly populations disproportionately. Further, Bodenheimer, Chen, and Bernett (2009) have found out that individuals will have at least two chronic conditions by the time they attain a pensionable age. Barnett et al. have also noted that the existence of multiple chronic diseases among the elderly poses the greatest challenge to the health care system.

The elderly populations are more susceptible to non-communicable diseases, which increases the overall prevalence and incidence rates (Chapell & Hollander, 2011). The high frequency of multiple chronic diseases is contributing to the escalating costs of providing care to elderly persons. For instance, a Medicare patient suffering from one chronic illness sees four doctors annually on average. On the other hand, those with multiple conditions visit fourteen different physicians in the same period (Barnett et al., 2012). The emerging concern is that Individuals with multiple chronic diseases represent the largest consumers of health and social care services in the United States. For example, Americans with multiple non-communicable conditions employ 65% of these services (Odden et al., 2011).

Chronic diseases will be the leading cause of morbidities and mortalities in the coming decades. For instance, the number of Americans living with one or more chronic conditions will escalate to 157 million by 2020 (Odden et al., 2011). The current shift in the etiology of non-communicable illnesses continues to receive more attention in light of the expanding aging population. Diabetes, heart complications, and cancer are now the leading causes of death across the globe (Bodenheimer, Chen, & Bennet, 2009). Barnett et al. (2012) have indicated that people aged over 60 years experience the deleterious effects of non-communicable illnesses. The severity of these diseases mandates the formulation of health promotion initiatives.

The ability to promote healthy living is critical to mitigating the health implications of aging. The “Healthy People 2020” Program is one of the initiatives that support the management and prevention of chronic conditions. The objectives of this methodology are facilitating the implementation of evidence-based practices (Barnett et al., 2012). Community-based programs (physical activity, healthy eating habits, and smoking cessation) will reverse the rising prevalence of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer significantly (Chapell & Hollander, 2011). King and Guralnik (2010) have argued that countries will reduce the future cases of multiple chronic diseases if the younger generation promotes a healthy lifestyle. One area of interest is the prevention of childhood obesity and overweight.


Countries across the world are experiencing unprecedented demographic changes, which represent plex challenges. Population aging has constrained the capacity of governments to provide optimal health and social care services. The elderly are susceptible to multiple chronic conditions whose treatment requires massive resources. Nonetheless, the recent economic recession has seen tremendous cuts in public expenditure. Health care providers are now dealing with scarce resources and an increase in the prevalence of chronic conditions among older citizens. Countries will only address these problems adequately if they conceptualize the scope and consequences of aging. The formulation of new policies will be essential to develop innovative and sustainable health care models to tackle the effects of aging.


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Bloom, D. E., & Canning, D. (2008). Global demographic change: Dimensions and economic significance. Population and Development Review, 34, 17-51.

Bodenheimer, T., Chen, E., & Bennett, H. D. (2009). Confronting the growing burden of chronic disease: Can the U.S. health care workforce do the job? Health Affairs, 28(1), 64-74.

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Odden, M. C., Coxson, P. G., Moran, A., Lightwood, J. M., Goldman, L., & Bibbins-Domingo, K. (2011). The impact of the aging population on coronary heart disease in the U.S. American Journal of Medicine, 124(9), 827-833.

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