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Last updated at 12:10 BST, Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Ageing populations

Summary

5 April 2012

Population ageing is happening fastest in poorer countries. But some health systems around the globe may struggle to cope with the increased burden of an older population.

Reporter

Mike Wooldridge

An older person with clasped hands

An ageing population brings a heavier health burden.

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Report

While Europe and Japan were among the first places to see their population ageing, the phenomenon is now occurring fastest in low and middle-income nations and WHO says the most dramatic changes are taking place in countries such as Cuba, Iran and Mongolia.

This means that where in the past infections were considered the greatest challenge, now even in the poorest countries the biggest health burdens for older people come from conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, dementia and sight and hearing loss.

WHO says present heath systems are poorly designed for the chronic care needs arising from this pattern of disease. The campaigning organisation HelpAge International welcomed the new focus on the impact of ageing but said the global community was still worryingly slow to act.

HelpAge cited Ghana where it said nearly sixty per cent of older people suffer from high blood pressure often leading to strokes and heart attacks but only five per cent are able to control it through medication.

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Vocabulary

ageing

getting older

phenomenon

something unusual that happens

burdens

difficult things people have to deal with

stroke

a problem with the brain which can make someone unable to move a part of their body

cancer

a serious disease in which cells in the body grow uncontrollably

diabetes

a serious illness in which the body is unable to control the amount of sugar in the blood

dementia

a mental illness which older people can suffer

chronic

describes an illness or problem which continues for a long time

the global community

the group of countries which sees itself as connected, often helping each other economically and socially

high blood pressure

A medical condition in which the force of blood in the veins is too high