The world is getting older. In 2015 there were around 900 million people over the age of 60. By 2050, it is expected that there will be two billion. Today, for the first time ever, most of us can expect to live into our sixties and beyond.
Population aging is happening much faster than in the past and in some countries the pace of change is particularly rapid. In China, a threefold increase in the elderly population is predicted between 2000 and 2050. And in Japan, the country with the highest life expectancy, the elderly are projected to account for more than a third of the population by 2050.
Growth of the Elderly Population
1900 to 2030
Note: from this graph, cognitive decline is evident already at 20-30, but more pronounced after 50-60
It is common now for these issues to be discussed in an apocalyptic way, with talk of a “demographic timebomb” and unbearable strain on health and social care systems. But looked at more positively, population aging is an opportunity – for individuals who have more time to explore new opportunities in life, and for societies as a whole, which can benefit from the contribution of older people.
Given that seniors are more likely to use supplements, population aging is undoubtedly also an opportunity for the nutrition industry. Research in the US in 2014 found that 58% of men aged 50 to 70 were taking supplements, compared with 36% in the 19-30 age group.
Reference: Dickinson et al, Nutrition Journal, 2014
Whatever your perspective, it is critical that we address the specific health needs of older people. As well as physical issues, such as osteoarthritis and pulmonary disease, these include cognitive difficulties, such as age-associated memory decline and more serious pathological deterioration.
Normal Aging vs. Demntia
Reference: Adapted from: Golomb et al, Dialogues in clinical neuroscience. 2004;6:351-367
Awareness of the importance of lifestyle and diet factors to support a healthy mind in later life is growing. Accordingly, aging consumers are turning to nutrition solutions, and experts predict that the market for health products containing ingredients for cognitive health will continue to rise as the global population ages.
One example is phosphatidylserine (PS). In 2003 the US FDA authorized two qualified health claims for it, declaring that it may reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction and dementia in the elderly. Enzymotec’s EnzyPS is a high-grade PS. Findings from an open label study have suggested that it has a beneficial impact on cognitive abilities in the elderly, and that is safe for use.
We will explore the cognitive health needs of older people, and the value of PS in supporting them, in more detail in our next blog. For now, it is worth reflecting on the scale of population aging and its implications. In just a few years, there will be more people over the age of 60 than there are children under the age of five.
Their health needs will have a huge impact on many areas of life in the decades to come, including the future of the nutrition industry.