Non-communicable diseases

Non communicable diseases, such as hypertension, are a growing problem in older people in developing countries. Non communicable diseases, such as hypertension, are a growing problem in older people in developing countries. (c) Dominika Kronsteiner/HelpAge International We live in an ageing world, in which better public health has resulted in longevity. By 2030, those over 60 will outnumber those under 15, with the fastest growth in the developing world.

However, this demographic change has led to an epidemiological transition. The predominance of infectious diseases is shifting to non communicable or chronic disease.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) include a range of chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, as well as Alzheimer's and other dementias.

They are commonly thought of as "diseases of affluence". But in reality, four-fifths of deaths from NCDs are in low- and middle-income countries and older people in developing countries are particularly at risk.

Progress at the UN Summit

Some progress in recognising the burden of NCDs on older people was made at the UN's September 2011 Summit on NCDs. The Political Declaration adopted at the UN General Assembly recognises ageing as one of the key factors in the rising prevalence of NCDs and that NCDs affect people at every age. The Declaration also replaces the discriminatory term "premature mortality" with "preventable morbidity" and includes Alzheimer's disease as a named NCD for the first time. These were all points that HelpAge had targeted for inclusion in the Summit document.

No age limit to health

We are still working to convince the World Health Organisation not to set age limits on their targets and indicators for measuring progress on NCDs.

What we want:

  • All people, regardless of their age, to be included in strategies on detection and diagnosis, prevention, management and treatment.
  • The use of discriminatory language and concepts relating to older age in the NCDs debate to be challenged.
  • Strategies against NCDs to recognise that including older people in prevention, promotion, management and care strategies will substantially reduce the health costs arising from rapidly ageing populations.
  • Diseases prevalent in old age, ranging from blindness to Alzheimer's disease and other dementias to be urgently addressed.
  • Governments to ensure the right of older people to primary health care offering prevention, diagnosis and treatment, as well as home and institutional care services.
Further reading
How is your country fareing on older people's health? Find out in our Global AgeWatch Index healthy life expectancy rankings table.

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Striking facts

  • Two-thirds of the 177 million people with type-2 diabetes are estimated to live in the developing world.

World Health Organisation: “Facts related to chronic disease”. www.who.int

  • By 2050, 115 million people will have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. 71% of those with dementia will be living in low- and middle-income countries.

Alzheimer’s Disease International Annual Report 2010, p15

  • 60% of all deaths in the world are caused by NCDs. 80%, or 38 million, of these deaths are in people from low- and middle-income countries.

World Health Organisation: MDG side-event on NCDs (New York, 20 September 2010) background paper

Efimia suffers from high blood pressure, arthritis and has cataracts; she gets headaches and walks slowly with a stick.

Efimia, 89, lives alone in a village in Moldova. She has high blood pressure, arthritis and cataracts.

Her family don't visit very often so she looks forwards to visits from Veronica, a HelpAge medical assistant.

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