Abstract

The ageing of the population is beginning to be an economic, social and health matter even for countries that do not belong to the advanced developed economies, but where the phenomenon can take on an impressive size that risks affecting the entire globe. It is clear that intervening downstream of the problem with forms of economic subsidy and health aid is not a winning strategy. It is necessary to work on prevention by limiting, as much as possible, the periods of non-self-sufficiency of older people that represent high health and social costs. Active ageing seems to be particularly useful in accompanying people towards a long, mostly self-sufficient and value-added old age, whereby older people can continue to be active members of the society in which they live. The system of higher education is able to perform a function of extreme importance with respect to the possibility, for the elderly population of a country, to actively live their old age: developing the activities of Life Long Learning, encouraging the birth of universities of the third age, intervene in the design, implementation and management of permanent training centres for the elderly are activities in which the university institutions can and must engage.
Geopolitical, Social Security and Freedom Journal, Volume 2 Issue 1, 2019
1
Ageing and society: the university’s role
Guido Amoretti
PhD., Full Professor in General Psychology, Department of Education Sciences
[DISFOR], University of Genoa - Email: guido.amoretti@unige.it
Doi: 10.2478/gssfj-2019-0001
Abstract
The ageing of the population is beginning to be an economic, social and health matter even for countries that
do not belong to the advanced developed economies, but where the phenomenon can take on an impressive size
that risks affecting the entire globe.
It is clear that intervening downstream of the problem with forms of economic subsidy and health aid is not a
winning strategy.
It is necessary to work on prevention by limiting, as much as possible, the periods of non-self-sufficiency of older
people that represent high health and social costs. Active ageing seems to be particularly useful in accompanying
people towards a long, mostly self-sufficient and value-added old age, whereby older people can continue to be
active members of the society in which they live.
The system of higher education is able to perform a function of extreme importance with respect to the possibility,
for the elderly population of a country, to actively live their old age: developing the activities of Life Long
Learning, encouraging the birth of universities of the third age, intervene in the design, implementation and
management of permanent training centres for the elderly are activities in which the university institutions can
and must engage.
Key Words: population ageing, active ageing, third age university
1. Introduction
The ageing of the population is a phenomenon that has taken on important
proportions since the second half of the last century. However, the causes of
the increase in life expectancy, at least in advanced developing countries, date
back to the beginning of that century and are attributable to improved living
conditions and advances in medicine and pharmacology. The two World
Wars, especially the second one, caused a postponement of the appearance of
the positive effects on life expectancy, but demographic studies have begun
to highlight the phenomenon of the ageing of the population since the
beginning of the '70s.
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2. Changes in world population
We can see how the structure of the population has changed from 1950 to
2020 and how it will change further towards the end of this century [Fig.1].
From 1950 to 2020 the world population has tripled, but in the same period,
the number of people over 65 has more than increased fivefold. If we consider
the forecast for 2090 of the World Population, we notice that while in 140
years it is quadrupled, estimates suggest that the portion of people over sixty-
five years of age is 18 times that observed in 1950.
Fig.1- World Population distribution by gender and age in 1950, 2020, 2090
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Already at a glance, it is possible to notice the change in the composition by
age with the passage from a pyramid shape to an ogive shape in which each
age group has a similar number of people. This fact, as we will say later, poses
major problems for welfare systems.
This picture, although worrying in itself, is the average representation of the
overall situation. If we analyse the data by geographical and economic areas,
we can see that in some areas the situation is already much more serious. For
example, in Western Europe, the over-65s will account for more than 10% of
the population in 2020, a figure that will only be reached worldwide in 2090.
But in the future, also countries that for the time being have a low percentage
of the elderly population are destined to face the problem of an ageing
population. In China, the percentage of people over 65 is currently 6% but
will double by the end of the century. The African continent has an elderly
population of 1.8%, but by 2090 it will reach 6%. But while the population in
China will suffer a slight decrease in the next 70 years, the African population
will go from 1 to 4 billion people, and the elderly population will be 240
million individuals, like the current population of North Africa [Fig. 2]
(Amoretti, 2017).
Fig. 2- Africa: Population distribution by gender and age in 2020 & 2090
Italy is the second oldest country in the world after Japan. Currently, the over-
65s represent about 12% of the population, but in 2090 they will reach 17.5%.
Of course, the Italian population is very small compared to countries like
China, India or African states like Nigeria and therefore these high
percentages translate into relatively small absolute numbers (in 2090 the
Italians over 65 will be almost 9 million) [Fig. 3]. However, these forecasts are
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very worrying from an economic point of view and in terms of maintaining
the welfare system even though Italy is the seventh-largest economic power
in the world.
The old-age index (i.e. the ratio between people aged 65 and over and those
aged between 0 and 14) will rise in Italy from 183 in 2020 to 253 in 2090 and
about a quarter of the Italian population will be unproductive by age towards
the end of this century. To this group of people, who are not productive for
age reasons, should be added the unemployed and NEET (Not in Education,
Employment or Training). This means that the weight of welfare will fall on
a portion of the productive population numerically much lower than the
current one with the risk, not to say the certainty, of a qualitative and
quantitative lowering of health and social services, unless there is a substantial
increase in the tax burden with all the repercussions on the economy that we
know well.
Fig.3- Italy: Population distribution by gender and age in 2020 & 2090
To avoid the danger of a collapse of the welfare system, few roads seem
feasible. Among them, the most effective seem to be: a reversal of the
demographic trends through policies in favour of families with children (but
only for the advanced developing countries, which have very low birth rates)
and a reduction in the demand for health and social services for people over
65 years of age.
The first remedy proposed has long lead times and uncertain outcomes: one
of the objectives at world level is to raise the quality of life throughout the
world, but it is well known that, where the quality of life reaches reasonable
levels, birth rates are lowered. There is, therefore, no certainty that the
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population is actually encouraged, by the interventions of various
governments, to have more children.
Increased life expectancy also brings with it better health conditions, provided
that people have led active lives, have constantly solicited their cognitive
processes and have not run into disabling conditions. Promoting the spread
of proactive attitudes can have the value of preventing pathological ageing.
But if this takes a long time before producing quantifiable effects, encouraging
active ageing among those who have already reached old age means
encouraging the maintenance of individual self-sufficiency, in the absence of
other diseases, and therefore reducing the use of social and health services and
the related costs for the community.
Here we will focus on the second hypothesis: to reduce health care/assistance
costs thanks to the spread of active lifestyles able to extend the period of self-
sufficiency of older people.
3. From active ageing to healthy ageing
But what are the scientific bases of the concept of active ageing? Active ageing
was theorised for the first time by Havigurst (1948) who indicated a
commitment to social activities as a remedy for the pain and suffering that
tend to characterise old age. This negative view of ageing was a product of the
times and was quite different from the current view of old age.
Havigursts activity theory had no particular impact when it was proposed.
But in the early 1960s, based on the results of the Kansas City Study of Adult
Life, a longitudinal and cross-sectional study of 700 ss between the ages of 40
and 90 conducted in the 1950s, the theory of disengagement was somewhat
successful (Cumming, Henry, 1961). According to this theory, ageing is
accompanied by a gradual, inevitable and irreversible tendency to withdraw
and abandon social roles and activities in preparation for the final detachment
that occurs with death. This approach was functional to a way of thinking
about old age in a passive and abandonment perspective. At that time the
focus was on young people, on the need to provide them with work and the
expulsion from the production cycle of older people, with experience but less
performing from a physical and intellectual point of view was justified.
As a result of the birth of the theory of disengagement, the theory of activity
takes on importance as a contrast. Soon, precisely because of those
demographic changes that we have described above, the theory of
disengagement showed its limits: with the increase in life expectancy, the
number of individuals who had to remain parked waiting for death
increased exponentially and with it the health and welfare costs. The idea of
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an active old age began to spread also thanks to the numerous studies that
tried to relate an active lifestyle with a better physical health and a greater
preservation of cognitive functions, both fundamental to increase the quality
of life of older people minimizing the possible periods of non-self-sufficiency
and thus reducing the related health costs.
In this second decade of the current millennium, the commitment to
spreading an active lifestyle among both the elderly and the rest of the
population, in a preventive perspective, has seen the World Health
Organization (WHO) and the European Commission at the forefront. The
latter, for example, has decreed 2012 as the European year for active ageing
and solidarity between generations.
The concept of active ageing is strongly related to that of well-being. Well-
being, both physical and mental, is not simply determined by the absence of
negative events (e.g. the absence of disease) but also by the presence of certain
economic, social and environmental conditions. The WHO, which introduced
the concept of active ageing already in 2002 (WHO, 2002), proposed the
concept of healthy ageing defined as the process of developing and
maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age
(https://www.who.int/ageing/healthy-ageing/en/) and proclaimed the
period 2020-2030 Decade of healthy ageing. According to the WHO The Decade
of Healthy Ageing (2020-2030) is an opportunity to bring together
governments, civil society, international agencies, professionals, academia, the
media, and the private sector for ten years of concerted, catalytic and
collaborative action to improve the lives of older people, their families, and
the communities in which they live (https://www.who.int/ageing/decade-
of-healthy-ageing). Healthy ageing is currently the primary objective for the
WHO and has replaced active ageing by effectively incorporating it. For the
next ten years, work will be done on healthy ageing, knowing that to achieve
this active ageing needs to become a global good practice.
4. Effectiveness of active ageing on maintaining self-sufficiency
The life cycle of a person is similar for most individuals: birth, adolescence,
work, adulthood, starting a family, reproduction, retirement, old age and
finally death. In advanced societies, it is possible to divide the life cycle into
three segments: before work, during work and after the end of work. The first
and third phases each occupy 25% of the life of an individual whose life
expectancy is around 80 years: the remaining 50% revolves around work and
the satisfaction of the needs of the family. This means that after retirement
people have on average between 15 and 20 years of life expectancy, a long
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period that, if free of disabling diseases, can be lived with satisfaction and can
also bring benefits to the community in which the elderly live.
The possibility that the psycho-physical well-being is perceived by the elderly
depends very much on the type of work and life they have led. As mentioned,
work occupies a substantial part of an individual's life, and the type of work
depends, first of all, on the level of education and, secondly, on the
opportunities and the ability to seize them. Constant physical exercise seems
to have a beneficial effect on health and life expectancy, reducing the risk of
cardiovascular disease, but work-related physical exercise seems to have
negative effects (Bauman, 2004). One of the cornerstones of the concept of
active ageing is not related to physical activity but to mental activity:
maintaining one's brain in exercise guarantees, in the absence of other
diseases, a longer period of self-sufficiency (Friedland, Fritsch, Smith, 2000).
People with a good level of education generally have conceptual jobs with
little physical fatigue, satisfactory salary levels and a greater predisposition to
cultivate interests that stimulate the use of cognitive faculties. Those with
lower levels of education often carry out jobs that involve heavy physical
effort, lower pay levels and lack the cultural tools and often the desire to
cultivate interests that involve cognitive processes. The result is that those
who "take off" with an advantage see the possibility of a self-sufficient and
active old age increased. Of course, there are exceptions on both sides because
the preservation of interests in the third age depends on having cultivated
them during working life, giving to work the necessary importance without
placing it at the centre of life.
An active lifestyle, therefore, includes constant physical activity, healthy eating
habits and continuous exercise of cognitive processes. In an ideal situation, all
three factors should be the subject of information campaigns conducted over
the years of initial training to prevent inappropriate lifestyles. However, since
not everyone is in a position to adhere to such a lifestyle, it is necessary to
prepare programmes aimed at spreading the concept of active ageing among
adults and the elderly in an attempt to encourage, at least in old age, the spread
of virtuous behaviours that can positively influence the development of the
final part of life.
5. University and active ageing: what relationship?
The University is certainly the place where scientific research is carried out,
but it is also the place where citizens are trained, the place in charge of
conveying the tools to understand the world and to induce positive behaviour
both for each of us and for the community. For these reasons, the University
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can and must play a role in the diffusion of active ageing by promoting
initiatives capable of orienting people's lifestyles.
In a preventive key, the Universities can intervene by activating courses on
the importance of healthy behaviour, exploiting the skills of the Faculties of
Health and of Motor Sciences, and addressing the issue of ageing and the
possibility of using residual capacities for the benefit of individuals and the
community (in this case the contribution of the Faculties of Psychology can
be decisive). The training/information on the benefits of an active attitude
towards life should be carried out in the early years, also to make it clear that
the training will not end with the school/university years but will continue
throughout life.
As for those who work, the University already plays an important role in adult
education: among the desks, along with young people just out of high school,
more and more often we find adults who return to study to complete their
training or attend courses of higher education to increase their skills. These
are probably the best vectors of the message on the importance of keeping
their cognitive functions trained: resuming their studies they realise that it is
more difficult to learn due to the lack of habit of studying and to age-related
changes in cognitive efficiency (less attention, less speed, greater
distractibility).
Compared to the elderly, the University has already played for years, in many
countries, a function of stimulation to active ageing (Amoretti, Spulber,
Varani, 2017). Educational initiatives have been carried out almost everywhere
over the last 40 years under different names: University of the Third Age,
Popular University, to name a few. The courses proposed to cover various
areas of scientific and humanistic knowledge and also concern practical skills.
Participation in the courses is very high and not only produces an active
involvement and mobilisation of cognitive skills but also triggers socialisation
processes that serve to reduce the risk of isolation, generally present among
the elderly, one of the leading causes of depression. Among the virtuous
effects of attending courses for the third age it is useful to remember the
spread of computer skills (computer literacy courses are the most popular),
the birth of events dedicated to the third age (the Seniorada, for example, a
kind of Olympics of the third age that promotes relations between the
generations and is organized for some years in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and
other Eastern countries), and the establishment of voluntary associations that
provide assistance to elderly people in need, to families with elderly people
with disabilities or make themselves available to Public Bodies to provide
support services (museum surveillance, gardening, surveillance outside
schools).
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6. Closing remarks
The demographic challenge that the political and economic world faces in
terms of welfare is a globalising challenge that also involves universities.
Assuming that policies are launched to contain current demographic
development, their effects will be perceptible in the long term. As a
consequence, the economic and welfare systems will have to face the needs
of a numerically very large section of the population over 65 years of age. The
diffusion of adequate lifestyles aimed at pursuing active ageing seems to be
the only viable way to minimise the number of non-self-sufficient people and
to have a positive impact on social and health costs. On these issues,
universities have the skills and resources to transmit to young people lifestyles
that are attentive to the well-being of the individual and capable of
guaranteeing a better and self-sufficient old age; to support attempts to change
attitudes on the part of adults who want to keep their minds open by providing
themselves with more opportunities for a good future; to respond to the ever-
increasing demands for training/satisfying their curiosities on the part of
people over sixty-five, who are increasingly far removed from the stereotype
of the old retired person, who is isolated and awaiting death. By paying
attention to the lifestyles and needs of the different age groups of the
population, universities contribute, in addition to training, a function that
belongs specifically to them, to maintaining ties between generations and the
consolidation of social relations, all factors that positively influence active
aging and promote the preservation of self-sufficiency for a long period of the
so-called third age. Because scientific and technological development, which
is produced by universities, to be effective must focus on the needs of people,
needs that are not only material but, through immateriality, have an impact on
the welfare of billions of people.
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control study, Neurology, 54, 3, p. A360.
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Havigurst R. J. (1948). Developmental Task and Education, McKay Co., New York (NY)
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Chapter
Full-text available
Focus on population ageing and related problems is quite spread in higher developed Countries. Old age is more and more perceived as wealth and the elderly as an added value for society. Nonetheless, what’s the state in Developing Countries? Elderly condition in Africa will be dealt verifying if a correspondence exists between tribe wise man concept, that can be assimilated to old people role in pre-industrial societies, and how modern African societies take into account ageing people.
Book
According to the Worl Report on Ageing and Health, the world0's population aged over 60 years will go to nearly 2 billion from the current 900 million; Japan is the country with the longest life expectancy, Italy is second in the world and first in Europe. These demographic changes pose social and health problems that must be addressed not so much from a welfare point of view as by spreading lifestyles that minimise the period of non-self-sufficiency of an individual's life. The volume provides an overview of the phenomenon of ageing using a multidisciplinary approach and collecting evidences of good practices from different countries, many of wich developed in the framework of the TEMPUS Project CTAE and presented in various Conferences and international Seminars that were held from 2013 to 2017.
Article
Developing policy and strategic initiatives to increase population levels of physical activity (PA) requires constant referral to the epidemiological evidence base. This paper updates the evidence that PA confers a positive benefit on health, using research studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature published between 2000-2003. Areas covered include updates in all-cause mortality and in cardiovascular disease prevention, diabetes, stroke, mental health, falls and injuries, and in obesity prevention. Recent evidence on PA and all-cause mortality replicates previous findings, and is consistent with current Australian moderate PA recommendations. Recent papers have reinforced our understanding of the cardiovascular protective effects of moderate PA, with new evidence that walking reduces the risk of CVD and, in two studies, at least as much as vigorous activity. The evidence base for protective effects of activity for women, older adults and for special populations has strengthened. Cancer prevention studies have proliferated during this period but the best evidence remains for colon cancer, with better evidence accumulating for breast cancer prevention, and uncertain or mixed evidence for the primary prevention of other cancers. Important new controlled-trial evidence has accumulated in the area of type 2 diabetes: moderate PA combined with weight loss, and a balanced diet can confer a 50-60% reduction in risk of developing diabetes among those already at high risk. Limited new evidence has accumulated for the role of PA in promoting mental health and preventing falls.
Growing Old, Basic Books
  • E Cumming
  • W E Henry
Cumming E., Henry W. E. (1961). Growing Old, Basic Books, New York (NY).
Participation in nonoccupational activities in midlife is protective against the development of Alzheimer s disease : Results from a case - control study
  • Friedland
Friedland R.P., Fritsch T., Smith K. et al. (2000). Participation in nonoccupational activities in midlife is protective against the development of Alzheimer's disease: Results from a casecontrol study, Neurology, 54, 3, p. A360.
Reducing Risks Promotion Healthy Life, World Health Organisation
  • R J Havigurst
Havigurst R. J. (1948). Developmental Task and Education, McKay Co., New York (NY) WHO, (2002). Reducing Risks Promotion Healthy Life, World Health Organisation, Geneva. Web References https://www.who.int/ageing/healthy-ageing/en/ consulted on September 2019 https://www.who.int/ageing/decade-of-healthy-ageing consulted on September 2019
Updating the evidence that physical activity is good for an epidemiological of suppl pp
  • Bauman
Elderly People in between stereotypes and reality in Active Ageing Roma pp
  • Amoretti
Developmental Task Co New York WHO Reducing Risks Promotion Healthy Life Organisation
  • Havigurst
Growing Old Basic Books New York
  • Cumming