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Time for Global Attention on Ageing Populations

The COVID-19 pandemic has without question exposed the brutal consequences of infectious diseases for the most at-risk populations which includes healthy older people as well as those with chronic conditions. It has also unearthed an uncomfortable structural and societal ageism affecting the human rights of millions of people around the world. From hospital triaging guidelines to chronic understaffing of long-term care facilities, national health systems have not taken the necessary steps to ensure that the most at-risk people had access to life-saving health services, regardless of age or socioeconomic background. An article in the Lancet explored the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic had on older persons and discussed recommendations to ensure global attention is aligned with the United Nations (UN) Decade of Health Ageing (2021-2030). The COVID-19 pandemic was the first in history to impact a society in which the global population aged 65 years and older outnumbered those 5 years and younger, revealing three key points. First, there are more older persons now than ever before. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the population of those aged 65 years and over in 2020 was approximately 727 million globally and this number is expected to double within the next three decades, totalling to 1.5 billion in 2050. Second, the pandemic highlighted the critical relationship between economies and healthy populations. Investing in health promotion and preventative measures will help to lower the burden on health care systems associated with an ageing population. Thirdly, the pandemic revealed that the key component to a healthy older population is not treatment, but prevention. This calls for the development and implementation of policy focusing on a life course approach to health such as vaccinations throughout the lifespan for infectious diseases including influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia, and pertussis. To ensure that older people are not left behind, Ataguba, Bloom, and Scott (2021) argued for an international convention on the rights of older people to provide a framework for addressing “social and economic inequities, insecurities, and vulnerabilities; championing beneficial opportunities for older people; and articulating aspirations and plans for the decades ahead”. The International Federation on Ageing (IFA) in their conviction to a Convention is convening the 15th Global Conference on Ageing: Rights Matter. This international platform aims to improve understanding of age-friendly environments, to debate the solutions to address inequalities, to confront the reality of ageism, and to delve into what it means to enable the functional ability of an older person. To learn more about the inequalities faced by older persons please contact Alana Officer, the Unit Head, Demographic Change and Healthy Ageing (DHA) at the WHO.

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Delayed access to eye care services is jeopardizing vision health

"In a world built on the ability to see, vision, the most dominant of our senses, is vital at every turn of our lives. The newborn depends on vision to recognize and bond with its mother; the toddler, to master balance and learn to walk; the schoolboy, to walk to school, read and learn; the young woman to participate in the workforce; and the older woman, to maintain her independence.” - Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that a staggering 2.2 billion people in the world have a vision impairment and almost half of these cases could have been prevented or have been left unaddressed. Population growth and ageing are considered driving forces in the ever-increasing number of people diagnosed with eye conditions. Throughout the life course, vision is likely to change, with significant impact on a person’s quality of life and functional ability. The burden of vision impairment is not equitably distributed among the population, older adults are more likely to suffer from visual impairment. Given the global burden of eye disease, prevention through primary and secondary health care is key to ensuring that healthy vision is maintained throughout the life course. Access to routine eye exams and treatment is a fundamental human right for every adult. The impact of COVID-19 has had devastating consequences on the ability of older people to access preventative and essential eye care services. An optometry news article is warning of the snowball effect of delayed eye care services during the pandemic and in foreseeable future. There has already been an observed influx in advanced cases of diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and retinal detachment as a result of a lack of or delayed eye care consultations. Research has found that amongst adult populations, vision impairment can severely compromise the quality of life and is also considered one of the most feared ailments. In 2019, the WHO released the World Report on Vision which highlighted evidence-based information on the burden of eye diseases globally and offered effective strategies and recommendations on eye care. Loss of vision had detrimental physical and mental health effects on older adults being associated with social isolation, difficulty walking, increased fall risk and increased likelihood to enter a care facility. A recent article by the Canadian Television Company (CTV) News highlighted some of the fears and apprehensions older adults face, including frustration with being unable to receive timely treatment and diagnosis, as well as the ramifications vision loss, would have on their ability to perform and enjoy the day to day activities. Primary health services, such as routine eye examinations, are the key screening tools. The loss or delay in using these services can lead to an increased rate of irreversible chronic eye conditions. Lack of appropriate screening not only puts the vision of older adults at risk but also contributes to significant backlogs within the health care system, impacting not only community members but social workers, ophthalmologists, government officials and health care institutions. There is an urgent need to increase awareness and drive critical policy change to reflect the importance of ensuring adequate funding and timely access to eye care services. To learn more about ophthalmology and eye health in the realms of global public health, contact Professor Serge Resnikoff, a Conjoint Professor at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of New South Wales from the IFA Expert Centre. To learn more about how to contribute to this important dialogue connect with Ms. Dana Elsaid (delsaid@ifa.ngo) and visit the IFA’s Vision Health portfolio which includes the Eye See You and DR Barometer program. World Health Organization. (n.d.). Eyecare, vision care, vision impairment and blindness. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/health-topics/blindness-and-vision-loss#tab=tab_1. World report on vision. Geneva: World Health Organization;2019. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241516570

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Older Persons and Technology - the Changes That Are Here to Stay Even After the Pandemic

COVID-19 is a threat to everyone but has shown to disproportionately impact older persons accounting for 90% of deathsi. Along with the high rates of mortality is the increase in social isolation experienced by older persons. While social distancing has become the norm, technology such as social networking sites and video chat, has helped people stay socially connected. However, there were also many older persons that are faced with challenges such as the learning curve associated with the use of these methods of connectivity or limited to no access to technology. A recent article by the American Psychological Association discusses the ways in which psychologists are focusing on studying how older persons use these devices and the support they need to be able to access applications and make them more user friendly. These changes and focus can mean that technology will become even further accessible to individuals that previously faced challenges and will also close the digital divide. Even in a post-pandemic world, the increasingly digital world will continue evolving and as such ensuring that older persons have access to these resources should occur parallel to the continuous rise of technology. While technology has been shown to mitigate the social isolation of the pandemic, it has also proved to be a barrier with the rise of telemedicine and the online booking of vaccine appointments for individuals that did not know how to use their computers, smart phones, and tablets. Closing the gap and making applications that are age-friendly will enable older persons to manage their health in ways that they were not possible before. Social isolation has continuously been proven to pose serious public health risks in older persons leading to premature death, increased risk of dementia, poor social relationships, depression, anxiety, and suicide. As such, understanding the ways in which digital tools can empower individuals and keep them socially connected in post-pandemic times. Understanding how applications and technology can be improved for older persons is an important step towards empowering older persons to maintain their independence and fulfill their potential to dignity. The United Nations Decade on Healthy Ageing calls on countries to ensure that older people can continue to participate and be an integral part of society. It is crucial to recognize the collective responsibility to ensure that older persons are not socially isolated, understand the barriers to access to technology, and increase access in order to improve health outcomes. The IFA’s 15th Global Conference on Ageing entitled “Rights Matter” is a global point of connection that advocates for the rights of older persons against the backdrop of the pandemic. One of the conference sub-themes is ‘barriers and enablers’ which will touch on the importance of technology to empower older persons and close the digital divide. To learn more about social isolation and the importance of enabling older persons through technology, connect with these experts: Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Associate Professor, Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of Toronto Prof. Sue Gordon, Professor of Healthy Ageing, Flinders University Emily A. Greenfield, Associate Professor of Social Work, Rutgers Universityi Moore, R. C. & Hancock, T. H. (2020). “Older Adults, Social Technologies, and the Coronavirus Pandemic: Challenges, Strengths and Strategies for Support”. Social Media and Society, 1-5. Available at: https://bit.ly/3opZM8n.

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Working Together to Defeat Invasive Meningococcal Disease

April 24 is World Meningitis Day, and on this day, the International Federation on Ageing (IFA) together with the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO) and Immunize Canada want to remind you that meningococcal disease is a health risk you should not take.

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The IFA has a long established and wide-ranging network of member organizations around the world. The network extends to over 75 countries covering every region. Together these organizations represent over 80 million older people.

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