WHO's new framework for ageing puts the emphasis on activity

The World Health Organization has published a new framework for public health action on ageing around the world, rejecting the stereotype of older people as frail and dependent. At the same time, it is consulting on a new action plan on ageing and health – and WCPT is encouraging physical therapists to take part.

The new World Report on Ageing and Health says that the contributions that older people make are often overlooked, while the demands that ageing will place on society are frequently over-emphasised or exaggerated.
“The overarching message is optimistic,” said Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization. “With the right policies and services in place, population ageing can be viewed as a rich new opportunity for both individuals and societies.”
The report says that while some older people require support, older populations are very diverse and make multiple contributions to families, communities and society. It says that policy needs to shift from an emphasis on controlling costs, to a greater focus on enabling older people to do the things that matter to them.
Stephen Lungaro-Mifsud, a senior lecturer in physiotherapy at the University of Malta with a special interest in gerontology and geriatrics, represented WCPT at WHO review meetings as the report was drafted.
He says the world report’s positive emphasis on optimising functional ability and facilitating each individual’s relationship with the immediate environment is a welcome development. 
“Everything is linked,” he says. “Once adopted, this approach is expected to have wide-ranging beneficial effects on the ageing world, on the economy, on society, on the person. Physical therapy would be a significant contributor to those changes."
The report emphasises the importance of encouraging physical activity, and particularly interventions to promote muscle strength and endurance. 
“Essentially all domains of fitness – aerobic, strength and neuromotor (balance) – are important for older populations,” says the report. But it adds: “It is logical and possibly safer to suggest that older adults whose mobility is compromised start by increasing their strength and improving their balance before embarking on aerobic training.”  
The report recommends realigning health systems so that there is more emphasis on ongoing care for chronic conditions as opposed to curing acute conditions. 
“Examples include the establishment of teams composed of different specialists such as physiotherapists, psychologists, nutritionists, occupational therapists, doctors and nurses in Brazil, and the sharing of computerised clinical charts among care institutions in Canada,” it says. 
Physiotherapy services in England, Netherlands and Singapore are also included in the report’s examples of good practice.
The World Health Organization is conducting a consultation on the zero draft of a Global Strategy and Action Plan on Ageing and Health, due to finish on 30th October.  It will define the strategic objectives for WHO and its member states to pursue, and lay these out as a global health framework for public health action.
WCPT is preparing a response to the online consultation and will be present at a consultation meeting in Geneva on 29th-30th October, represented by President Emma Stokes and Stephen Lungaro-Mifsud. WCPT is encouraging physical therapists with an interest in ageing and health to submit comments on the draft strategy to WHO.  If you are submitting comments to WHO, please send a copy to president@wcpt.org. If you wish to participate in WCPT’s own organisational response, contact president@wcpt.org
The five strategic objectives being considered in the consultation are:
  • Committing to foster healthy ageing in every country
  • Aligning health systems to the needs of older populations
  • Developing long-term care systems
  • Creating age-friendly environments
  • Improving measuring, monitoring and understanding
“The impending WHO action plan will build on the report to guide strategic entities and stakeholders globally to reach relevant objectives in a coherent manner,” said Stephen Lungaro-Mifsud.

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