The world population has reached 7 billion. An estimated 524 million people in 2010 were aged 65 or older – 8% of the world’s population. By 2050, this number is expected to nearly triple to about 1.5 billion, representing 16 percent of the world’s population (WHO 2011). What does this mean for health care and, particularly, for nurses?
Although, this population ageing can be seen as a success story for public health policies and for socioeconomic development, it also has serious health implications. The increase in life expectancy results in a greater number of older persons in need of a wider range of health services, including health promotion, illness prevention, rehabilitation, acute/chronic care and palliative care.
The world’s ageing population will require a shift of focus from acute disease to chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and osteoporosis. In addition, with chronic illness often comes disability, meaning that long-term care services, such as nursing homes, home health, personal care, adult day care, and congregate housing, will become much more important sources of care.
The ageing of the population and the increase in chronic illnesses impact considerably on health care costs and put increasing demands on a health workforce already over-worked and facing shortages. In addition, the health workforce is also ageing. Over the next 10 to15 years many industrialised countries will experience a large exodus of nurses from their workforce as nurses retire just at a time when demand for nursing and health care is on the rise. Finding ways to retain older nurses is a challenge of increasing importance to health systems throughout the world.
Ageing is also affecting nursing faculty. In many countries today the average age of nursing school faculty is 50. When combined with a shrinking pool of young nursing faculty, this affects the ability of schools to educate sufficient numbers of nurses to meet current and future demand.
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