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International Day of Older Persons 2020 highlights contributions of nursing profession

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This year's observance recognises the role of healthcare staff in contributing to the health of older persons.

International Day of Older Persons, an observance first designated by the UN General Assembly in 1990, this year promotes the Decade of Healthy Ageing, bringing together UN experts, government, civil society and health professions to discuss the Global Strategy and Action plan on Ageing and Health, and raise awareness of the special health needs of senior citizens. 

As 2020 is also the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, International Day of Older Persons 2020 will highlight the role of healthcare personnel, in particular the nursing profession, in contributing to the health of older persons. Its primary focus is on the role of women, who are "relatively undervalued" and "inadequately compensated". 

Indeed, the nursing profession will be in the spotlight at a virtual event, Nurse Leadership Forum Middle East on Monday, October 12th (3pm-5pm GST), involving more than 200+ nurse leaders from across the Middle East.

Professor Ciaran O'Boyle from the RCSI Centre for Positive Psychology and Health will be joined by Associate Professor Jane Griffiths, Chief Nursing Information Officer at the Dubai Health Authority, who will provide a regional perspective on the strategies employed during the pandemic.

In addition, the International Day of Older Persons theme for 2020 aims to increase understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on older persons, and its impact on health care policy, planning and attitudes.

It explains that policy and programmatic interventions must be targeted towards raising awareness of the special needs of older persons during the outbreak of pandemics such as COVID-19. 

COVID-19 impact on older population

According to the WHO, older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the coronavirus.

COVID-19 is changing older people's daily routines, the care and support received, their ability to stay socially connected and how they are perceived. Seniors are being challenged by requirements to spend more time at home, lack of physical interaction with family members, friends and colleagues, temporary cessation of work and other activities; and anxiety and fear of illness and death.

The UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) adds that the level of risk faced by older persons varies considerably from country to country. The main determinant of COVID-19 mortality among persons aged 60 years or older is the extent to which countries have been able to contain or mitigate the epidemic. Other factors are individual frailty related to pre-existing medical conditions, the level care received and the living arrangements of older persons.

How the ageing population can remain healthy in today's world

The global population is ageing: UN DESA projects a doubling of the ageing population from an estimated 727 million aged 65 years or over by 2050, to total more than 1.5 billion people.

The proportion of the overall population is expected to grow from 9.3 percent in 2020 to 16.0 percent in 2050, and by mid-century one in six will be an older person. 

Speaking to Omnia Health Insights in a recent Patient Talk podcast episode, Prof O'Boyle revealed that there are communities worldwide where people already regularly live beyond 100 - described as "blue zones". He attributed this to lifestyle behaviours:

"There are certain behaviours in terms of what they eat - like plant-based diets, they get up from the table and they're 80 percent full, their activity is natural that is built into their day. You see shepherds in their eighties for example. There are things that individuals can do, but there are also things that cities and countries can do to create a built environment that makes it easier for people to look after their health."

One such example of an environment healthy by design is NEOM, a planned city in Saudi Arabia of open spaces that will nudge visitors and residents into a healthier living. Dr Maliha Hashmi, Executive Director and the Deputy Sector Head Health and Wellbeing and Biotech at NEOM, described this city design as a "gym", cemented by smart devices that offer reminders to take exercise and other healthy activities. 

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