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Global aging is a rising issue

Elderly Indians participate in celebrations to mark International Day of Older Persons at an old age home in Ahmadabad, India, Tuesday Oct. 1. Much of the world is not prepared to support the ballooning population of elderly people, including many of the fastest-aging countries, according to a global study scheduled to be released Oct. 1 by the United Nations and an elder rights group.

Elderly Indians participate in celebrations to mark International Day of Older Persons at an old age home in Ahmadabad, India, Tuesday Oct. 1. Much of the world is not prepared to support the ballooning population of elderly people, including many of the fastest-aging countries, according to a global study scheduled to be released Oct. 1 by the United Nations and an elder rights group. AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

A new global study finds that the world is aging so fast that most countries are not prepared to support their rising numbers of elderly people.

Here’s five things to know about the Global AgeWatchIndex, issued Tuesday by elder advocacy group HelpAge International and the U.N. Population Fund in part to address a lack of international data on the extent and impact of global aging:

The fastest aging countries are developing ones, such as Jordan, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Vietnam, where the number of older people will more than triple by 2050. All ranked in the bottom half of the index.

On the one hand, people living longer is a testament to advances in health care and nutrition, and advocates emphasize that the elderly should be seen not as a burden but as a resource. On the other, many countries still lack a basic social protection floor that provides income, health care and housing for their senior citizens.

Many governments have resisted tackling the issue partly because it is viewed as hugely complicated, negative and costly — which is not necessarily true, says Silvia Stefanoni, chief executive of HelpAge International. Japan and Germany, she says, have among the highest proportions of elders in the world, but also boast steady economies.

Prosperity in itself does not guarantee protection for the old. The world’s rising economic powers — the so-called BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — rank lower in the index than some poorer countries such as Uruguay and Panama.

However, the report found, wealthy nations are in general better prepared for aging than poorer ones. Sweden, where the pension system is now 100 years old, makes the top of the list because of its social support, education and health coverage, followed by Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada. The United States comes in eighth.

Even in Sweden, aging isn’t without its challenges.

The Swedish government has suggested that people continue working beyond 65 and has cut taxes sharply for working Swedes but only marginally for retirees. “I go to lectures and museums and the theater and those kinds of things, but I probably have to stop that soon because it gets terribly expensive,” says Marianne Blomberg, an 80-year-old Stockholm resident. “If you want to be active like me, it is hard. But to sit home and stare at the walls doesn’t cost anything.”

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