Intended for healthcare professionals


Medicine must change to serve an ageing society

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 04 December 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1450
  1. Alison Tonks, assistant editor
  1. BMJ

    Eradicate age discrimination and increase resources

    Doctors and those responsible for commissioning and shaping health services have failed to acknowledge the rapid ageing of most societies. This worldwide phenomena is unprecedented, leaving us ignorant, fearful, and reluctant to tackle it face on. A conference in London last month examined how medicine and its institutions must change to serve a growing older population while still meeting the needs of younger people. Two issues dominated: age discrimination and resources.

    Currently 20% of the population of the United Kingdom is over 60-12 million people. By 2031 this proportion will be nearly a third—18.6 million people.1 Most will lead healthy and rewarding lives, but the numbers of people needing acute and long term care will inevitably increase. Rates of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and osteoarthritis among elderly people in the next century will be greatly determined by success or failure now in preventing such disease.

    Health care is ill suited to perform well in a world with many more elderly people because it is ageist. Older people face arbitrary discrimination in their encounters with health professionals,2 and this probably reflects a wider ageism within society. Older …

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