Gerontologists urge countries to adopt social policies in support of active aging

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Theresa Kreif, (808) 956-6120
Assistant to the Dean, School of Social Work
Posted: Feb 23, 2018

Kathryn Braun, sixth from right, and other ACAP representatives.
Kathryn Braun, sixth from right, and other ACAP representatives.

A dozen international gerontologists affiliated with the Active Aging Consortium in Asia Pacific (ACAP), including two public health professors from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, met in Hong Kong recently to sign a declaration urging countries to adopt social policies in support of active aging.

“Active aging calls for a partnership involving individuals, governments, nonprofits, researchers and businesses,” said ACAP President Kathryn L. Braun, chair of the Office of Public Health Studies within the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work. “Individuals must prepare for a long life, taking care of their health and continuing to contribute to society. Policymakers must assure a basic level of support for all and institute policies that promote healthy choices. And science must find, and business must create, affordable solutions to counter and compensate for disabilities common in old age.”

Ways to support active aging include the creation of age-friendly programs, active collaboration across sectors, use of research to address challenges and establishing international networks for exchange of best practices.

Present at the declaration signing were gerontologists representing Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom and U.S. Representing the latter was UH Center on Aging Professor Christy Nishita, who gave a presentation on the Hawaiʻi Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative and a talk titled “Age-Friendly Honolulu.”

The world’s elderly population is growing at an unprecedented rate. According to the National Institutes of Health, 8.5 percent of the planet’s population is age 65 and older. In Hawaiʻi, the percentage of the elderly population is more than twice as high, about 17 percent in 2016.

“As the aged population grows, Hawaiʻi needs to increase support and opportunities for our kūpuna,” commented Braun. “The longer we can keep our elders healthy and active, the more they can contribute to families and society.”

ACAP‘s Asian partners have even more cause for concern. By the year 2050, people ages 60 or older will represent 41 percent of Japan’s population, 39 percent in Korea, 38 percent in Singapore and 37 percent in Hong Kong. This compares to only 27 percent in the U.S.

“Populations are aging rapidly in these countries because birth rates are below replacement, and elders are living longer and longer,” said Braun. “Asian governments are exploring policies to increase the retirement age, expand work and volunteer opportunities for older adults, and support elders to live independently in the community or with families, rather than in institutions—resulting in the need to import foreign elder care workers.”