Ten percent of the world’s population now is over the age of 60 years. By 2050, it is expected to reach 20% at which point the population of older people worldwide will be greater than the population of children up to age 14 years. The primary reason for the increase in the older population is the fact that people are living longer. Improved medical care and prevention efforts have contributed to dramatic increases in life expectancy in the western countries over the past century. Although this dramatic increases in life expectancy in the western countries during the 20th century, a major shift in the leading causes of death and disability in all age groups, including older people, has been observed. The causes of death shifted from infectious diseases and acute illnesses to chronic and degenerative diseases. Actually at least 80% of people older than 60 are living with one chronic illness, but 50% older than 60 are living with two chronic illnesses: heart disease, cancer and stroke now account for 61% of all deaths in this age group. Chronic conditions seriously compromise the quality of life of older adults, often forcing them to give up their independence too soon. However, some evidence from large national health surveys indicates that the older population today is generally healthier than were previous cohorts. Rates of disability are declining or stabilizing, and recovery from acute disabilities is improving. A longer active life, as opposed to a longer life characterized by dependency and disability, can only occur with adequate management of the chronic illnesses that often accompany old age and management of social and health behaviors throughout life, such as diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and a healthy environment in which to live and work. All these factors play a role in the development and progress of chronic conditions. The main purpose of the present symposium is twofold. First of all to reinforce the role of potentially preventable chronic diseases in the pathogenesis of frailty in the older age. Second to provide evidence that although people tend to develop chronic conditions as they age, growing old does not have to mean becoming disabled. To fulfil this goal we will present a series of comprehensive lectures mainly focused on the main determinant of frailty or, from the opposite perspective, of successful aging.
Co-presidents of the Meeting Giovambattista Desideri and Stefania Maggi