Monday, April 9, 2012

China - Healthy Aging, Happy Life: Lessons From China

Colette Browning, Professor of Healthy Aging at Monash University, writes about the Happy Life Club, a chronic illness management system that she is leading with colleagues at Peking University.

The demographic profile of the world is changing. Aging is a global phenomenon, an unprecedented, pervasive, profound and an enduring process for humanity. The current and future burden and opportunities of this phenomenon are important for all countries.
Alongside aging populations, the growing rates of chronic illness globally have been described as a building “tsunami” for which all governments and societies will need to prepare.

Our focus needs to be on optimizing the quality of life for older people through effective health and social interventions. We need to concentrate on how they may continue to contribute to, rather than detract from, the prosperity and social capital.

Healthy aging approaches recognize the rights and aspirations of older people and also provide ways to reduce the perceived “burden” of population aging.

In terms of population aging, China is in a unique position because:

It has the largest absolute number of older people globally. The number of people aged over 60 reached 165 million in 2011 and this number is growing.

The rate of aging is accelerating, and growth of the number of older people within China is three times the rate of the overall national population increase. This dynamic growth is in no small measure due to China’s very effective population growth strategy, especially the one-child policy, which has resulted in major changes to its demography.

The proportion of people aged 65 years or over has doubled in 30 years. This same change took 70 years in the United States and 130 years in France.

Currently 13 percent of the total Chinese population is aged 60 years and above (China population census and population statistics), with 8.2 percent aged 65 years and above.

It will experience the increase in aging of its population well in advance of the levels of economic prosperity reached in developed countries that have had the same change. In such countries, GDP per capita is much higher than in China.

China – and other countries significantly affected by aging populations and increased prevalence of chronic illness – will need an income and social support system, an effective health system and many other government policies and services to handle these momentous changes.

When you examine the patterns of illness that confront aging populations, you can see that many are changeable. Mature onset diabetes, for example, is avoidable and can even be reversed with appropriate diet, exercise and social support regimens.

In China, the Happy Life Club project is one example of an approach to healthy aging. I am leading this project with my colleague Professor Tuohong Zhang from Peking University and my colleagues Dr. Yang Hui and Professor Shane Thomas from Monash and the Fengtai District government, Beijing.

The Happy Life Club is a chronic illness management system based upon earlier Australian work conducted by us and our colleagues. The club trains doctors and nurses to change the behavior of people with diabetes, and other chronic conditions such as heart disease, through the use of motivational interviewing techniques.

Initially the Happy Life Club intervention was conducted in Fangzhuang, a large residential area of Beijing. The program has now extended to the larger Fengtai district of Beijing with plans for further extension to other Chinese cities and other sites, including Malaysia.

Our large-scale research shows that the approach is highly effective. We are currently conducting the Chinese economic modeling, but the Australian modeling showed a net benefit of AU$16,000 a year for each participant due to improved health and lower use of services.

Participants reduced their risk factors, and improved the management of their disease, and their quality of life and psychological well-being. They also increased their social networks and were better able to continue their contributions to their family and society.

Effective, targeted and proven prevention and management of chronic diseases can not only save countries with large aging populations a great deal of money but also results in improved quality of life for older people, facilitating their social participation. Such approaches contribute to the UN Second World Assembly on Aging’s call to build “a society for all ages.”
By: Professor Colette Browning, Professor of Healthy Aging at Monash University and Director of Monash Research for an Aging Society. Professor Browning is Director of the Happy Life Club research program which has sites in China, Australia and Malaysia. She is Co-Director of the Melbourne Longitudinal Studies on Healthy Aging Program, an ongoing 16-year study of older people.

Source: The Conversation.

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