Global Burden of Disease Study 2012
This year the Lancet published the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (GBD 2012). Four hundred and eighty six scientists from 302 institutions in 50 countries collaborated to produce a document that will, it is hoped, help shape future health policy and increase our understanding of health priorities.
Life expectancy is increasing around the world for men and for women. Dramatic changes in life expectancy have occurred over the past forty years with a massive increase of 11.1 years for males and 12.1 years for females. Globally, from the 1970s, life expectancy at birth rose by three to four years each decade. Then in the 1990s there was a slowdown. This was due to increases in mortality in eastern and southern sub‐Saharan Africa from the HIV epidemic and to alcohol-related deaths in eastern Europe and central Asia.
Old age will bring with it more people with dementia, more people living with co- existing diseases and conditions that, with ever improving treatments, will further increase longevity. In years to come societies across the world will have to change their ways of living. It will change the emphasis of regional economies.
The word ‘burden’ in the title is strangely apposite to the way old people are sometimes thought of and described. Many patients who were more dependent on relatives and heath institutions for their care described themselves to me as a burden to their families. Age in Western society has lost many of its traditional positive attributes.
And we are getting even older. In many Western societies it is estimated that about a quarter of children alive today will live to a hundred years, or more. The GBD 2012 says that in ‘postponing mortality’ the death rate death changed from 3.84 million in 1970 to 12.11 million, more than 210% in 2010, in the above 80 age group.
This rapid social change needs an equally rapid update in the way older vulnerable people are viewed. The fact that older people themselves don’t want to be a burden says something about personal fears. Unless we can develop an infrastructure that both supports the needs and demands of a diminishing workforce at the same time as meeting those of increasing numbers of the elderly there is a danger that the outlook might be bleak.
Wang H, Dwyer-Lindgren L, Lofgren KT, Rajaratnam JK, Marcus JR, Levin-Rector A, Levitz C, Lopez AD, Murray CJL. Age-specific and sex-specific mortality in 187 countries, 1970–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. The Lancet. 2012 Dec 13; 380: 2071–2094