When the United Nations proclaimed 2021-2030 the “Decade of Healthy Ageing,” they noted that health is central to our experience of older age and the opportunities that aging brings.
According to the United Nations, 1 in 6 people in the world will be over the age 65 by 2050, up from 1 in 11 in 2019. Moreover, the number of people aged 80 or over is projected to triple in the next 30 years. In many regions, the population aged 65 will double by 2050, while global life expectancy beyond 65 will increase by 19 years.
AARP’s purpose is to empower people to choose how they live as they age. Health, both physical and mental, is key to achieving that purpose. As people live longer, healthier lives, they can stay in the workforce longer, whether motivated by desire or need. They can continue contributing to their families, communities, and society. They can delay or reduce admissions to hospitals and other care facilities and enjoy active, independent, and fulfilling lives while enriching their environments in many ways.
Maintaining physical and mental health requires innovating solutions that empower us to take better care of ourselves and our loved ones and having access to affordable, high-quality care that enables longer, healthier lives.
While most older adults have good mental health, we know that increasing age is the single greatest nonmodifiable risk factor for the diseases that cause dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease. Here in the US, dementia is one of aging Americans’ top fears and is on track to triple by 2060. It is the only top-ten cause of death with no known cure and is one of the most urgent health inequities of our time.
As our global population continues to age, the number of people with dementia and those at the greatest risk for developing dementia will continue to grow. The World Health Organization reports that around 55 million people have dementia across the globe, with over 60 percent living in low- and middle-income countries. “As the proportion of older people in the population is increasing in nearly every country, this number is expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.”
Communities of color and women bear a disproportionate burden. Black Americans are two to three more likely and Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than hon-Hispanic whites. By 2030, nearly 40 percent of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are projected to be Black or Latino. And, two-thirds of those living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are women.
In addition to the human toll Alzheimer’s and other dementias take on patients and their families, it comes with tremendous financial costs as well. For example, in the US, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the US $355 billion, including $239 billion in Medicare and Medicaid payments combined. Unless we prevent, slow or develop adequate treatments for this disease, Alzheimer’s is projected to cost more than $1.1 trillion in 2050 (in 2021 dollars)—a three-fold increase in both government spending under Medicare and Medicaid and in out-of-pocket spending. We must find ways to bring the costs of treatments down to make care more sustainable for individuals and society.
The good news is that a significant percentage of dementia could be delayed—and in some cases prevented—by early intervention. Studies indicate that approximately 40 percent of dementia cases are potentially preventable by addressing risk factors including: hypertension, diabetes, depression, physical inactivity, poor nutrition, smoking, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, inadequate sleep, air pollution, and social isolation and loneliness.
That’s why we have made helping people maintain and improve their brain health as they age a central part of our mission at AARP. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are not a normal part of aging. Risks can be reduced by implementing healthy lifestyle behaviors and public policies that support brain health. We are pleased that we are making progress in the United States on these issues, where just this year, our National Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research Care and Services has recommended adding a goal to reduce risk factors for dementia to our National Plan.
At AARP, we have launched several initiatives to help people maintain and improve their brain health as they age. Staying Sharp is our digital platform that provides users with tools and information at scale helping them protect and strengthen their brain. Staying Sharp is available in both Spanish and English, and accessible through mobile apps and on the web. Empowering people with the things they can do to “Stay Sharp,” helps to dispel the stigma associated with aging and dementia, something AARP seeks world-wide collaboration to eliminate.
We’re also active behind the scenes investing and collaborating with other organizations to address brain health issues. For example, through the AARP Brain Health Fund, we have invested $60 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund, which in turn invests in research and development to identify potentially cutting-edge therapeutic approaches that could lead to effective treatments and ultimately a cure for Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. We partnered to create the Alzheimer’s Disease Data Initiative to support global data sharing.
We convene the Global Council on Brain Health to bring together scientists, doctors, scholars and policy experts around the world to debate the latest in brain health science to reach consensus on what works and what doesn’t and to translate critical scientific information on brain health into simple actions people can take every day to help their brainspans match their lifespans.
And last year, joining with women leaders around the world, we released a landmark report, “The Role of Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Caregiving on Women,” which sets forth a strategy for improving women’s brain-health research and policies over the next decade.
Since 2019, we have collaborated with the U.S. National Academy of Medicine to launch The Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity, an initiative to bring together thought leaders from the full range of fields that touch on aging, “to identify the necessary priorities and directions for improving health (both physical and mental), productivity, and quality of life for older adults worldwide.” We help lead the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Healthy Ageing and Longevity bringing stakeholders together to share knowledge on the importance of healthy aging and longevity.
We also work with the United Nations and our international NGO partners to advocate for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030 and to co-chair the Stakeholder Group on Ageing with our partner, HelpAge International. Additionally, we recently convened a global conference of international experts and stakeholders focused on “Redefining Health: New Approaches for How We Live and Age” to explore how we can advance a global vision for healthy aging as a central strategy to reinvent, create, and build more resilient societies.
The opportunity to live longer, healthier, more productive lives is one of humankind’s greatest accomplishments. Capitalizing on such an unprecedented opportunity, however, will require new approaches to how we live and age, including an increased commitment and investment in research to find better ways to treat and care for people with dementia and eventually find a cure.
Jo Ann Jenkins is Chief Executive Officer of AARP
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 Mielke M. M. (2018). Sex and Gender Differences in Alzheimer's Disease Dementia. The Psychiatric times, 35(11), 14–17.
 Alzheimer’s Association. 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimer’s Dement 2021;17(3).
 Livingston et al. (2020). Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30367-6. And, Risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia: WHO guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2019. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.