Athlos project proposes a new definition of old age based on health of population

AGE platform Europe and ATHLOS co-organised the event “Demographic scenarios and healthy ageing policies” January 28th, 2020
AGE platform Europe and ATHLOS co-organised the event “Demographic scenarios and healthy ageing policies” January 28th, 2020

Ageing is a process that begins when you start living. “The real change in the last centuries is that we live longer”, explained the Athlos project coordinator, Josep María Haro, hosting the meeting on demographic scenarios and healthy ageing policies co-organised by AGE Platform Europe and ATHLOS at the European Parliament in Brussels.

“Europe is an aging continent that currently lacks policies and mechanisms for the protection of rights of the elderly people. Despite significant efforts, the attempts to adopt an international legal instrument on the rights of older persons have faltered. What is more, the EU and its member states still fail to implement the provisions of the European Social Charter and principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights.” recognized Mr. Milan Brglez, Member of the European Parliament, during the opening of the event.

“Considering that aging has a critical impact on the occurrence of discrimination, marginalization, and social exclusion, thereby hindering the older persons’ adequate protection or enjoyment of their human rights, it is of immense importance for the state authorities to recognize these contemporary challenges and accept responsibility for their solutions. Not only state but also community level is key for the promotion of principle of intergenerational solidarity and for the protection of the rights of the elderly” in the words of Mr. Brglez.

“People in different countries age differently” so policies should be done according to age, according to Mr. Heinz K. Becker, former Member of the European Parliament who was also attending the event, “national strategies are the first priority. If the measures are correct, we can do policy, as we need to address pensions, so let’s have a discussion about them!” The need of a social and intergenerational debate has been highlighted during the event. “Are pensions a right?” asked the Athlos coordinator. Should they be provided by institutions from one generation to another?

AGE platform Europe and ATHLOS partners at the final at the European Parliament in Brussels
AGE platform Europe and ATHLOS partners at the final at the European Parliament in Brussels

People are not old at 65 anymore

During the meeting, the microsimulation for healthy ageing trajectories done by the Athlos project was presented by Guillaume Marois from IIASA. “The problem is to convert the evidence into policy recommendations”, said Dorota Sienkiewicz, policy coordinator at EuroHealthnet, and “media have a lot to do” with it. Dr Sergei Scherbov, Athlos researcher and Deputy Program Leader with the World Population Program (POP) at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), agrees: “People don’t understand so the media has a role to explain that we live longer” now.

Healthy ageing is a political choice for the NGOs. “Healthy aging is not a process that should be triggered in a certain period of life, but it is a lifetime process that has to be nourished and observed at the most convenient early stage of human development. Finally, healthy aging is an evident prerequisite to ensure our society can enable extending the quality life span”, Milan Brglez said. For the MEP, “the success of healthy ageing is therefore possible only if certain basic systemic pre-conditions have been met. Civil society organizations working in the relevant field and especially policymakers should be highlighting the need to address inequalities in order to promote and ensure healthy aging in a socially all-encompassing manner”. For researchers, healthy ageing is not the same to age without any health condition.

During her speech about social determinants and health inequalities, the Athlos researcher from University College London (UCL), Dr Frances MacGuire, explained that ageing can be tough, but it is tougher for some than for others, and that’s why healthy ageing takes into account the social determinants of health: “it works fine, it helps people to change their health habits”. In her Guidelines for policy makers, Athlos researcher Matilde Leonardi from the Besta Institute in Italy remarked that “the European Union could benefit from the changes of population”. The first action should be acting on transportation to reduce disability.

Dr Warren C. Sanderson, Professor at the Department of Economics and History at State University of New York at Stony Brook and Senior Research Scholar with the World Population Program at IIASA, Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, explained how a new definition of old age has been developed in the Athlos project. “It makes no sense to consider 65 an old age threshold”, Dr Scherbov added during the discussion. During the event, it was said that health is different to life expectancy and we should take both into account. “People may rethink and understand they are not old at 65” anymore.

Athlos project proposes a new definition of old age based on health of population