Ageing in Mexico: Geriatrics in the New World

10 October 2013

José Alberto Ávila Funes is Head of the Department of Geriatrics at the National Institute of Medical Science and Nutrition Salvador Zubiran, Mexico City. He Tweets at @geriatriainnszportada

A demographic transition featuring an ever increasing life expectancy is occurring across the globe. In contrast to Old World countries where longevity has predominated for centuries, in Mexico it is a relatively new and ongoing phenomenon only evident since the end of the 20th century. By 2050, one third of the Mexican population will be represented by people ≥ 60 years old, with  life expectancies reaching 80 and 85 years for men and women respectively. But what do these statistics mean? Is there more to ageing than just having more old folks walking around? The experience from other countries suggest that a greying population though a vindication of advances in medicine, public health and sanitation, do pose some tricky financial and health services related ramifications.

Ageing in Mexico is a synonym for challenges. As the Mexican population ages, many challenges arise on a daily basis and the available resources must be strategically deployed in order to ensure better quality of life for the elderly. Rising prevalence of chronic degenerative diseases (i.e. obesity, diabetes, hypertension, coronary disease, COPD), precarious socio-economic status, mistreatment, discrimination, low access to health services, disability, increasing burden of care and frailty are just some of the many obstacles that the elderly are currently facing. It is indeed a wide-ranging and extensive agenda, but by no means a lost cause. Mexico is presently undergoing a transition and evolution of health services and policy to better serve the  needs of the elderly.

Following the principles championed by Dr. Warren, a fledgling  geriatric community has begun development in Mexico with joined efforts of physicians coming together from different specialties and sharing a common interest in the care of older patients. The growing interest in this population group has spread to other disciplines including nursing, nutrition, rehabilitation, social work, and other non-health related professionals. In Mexico, the first official undergraduate curriculum focusing on  geriatricians was created towards the end of the 1980s. This has facilitated a modest growth of older people services. However, there are still concerns around deficiencies in health, social and fiscal planning towards the unique demands of an older population.

Recently, the dedicated joint effort of a devoted few has culminated in the formation of the Instituto Nacional de Geriatría (National Institute of Geriatrics), a strong step forward in the promotion of geriatric medicine in Mexico. The Mexican Society of Geriatricians and the Mexican Council of Geriatrics, along with the National Institute of Geriatrics, work shoulder to shoulder in order to prepare quality physicians specialized in the field of geriatrics and promote health Ageing and improved medical care of older patients. The second annual congress of the Mexican Society of Geriatricians was very well received and attended by over a thousand participants. It addressed a wide variety of topics such as  dementia, heart failure, sarcopenia, nutrition, polypharmacy, metabolic syndrome, disability, and frailty among others. The congress was a vivid example of the collective effort made by geriatricians all around the country to promote continuing education and provide useful tools for the impending ageing future. Mexico is determined to promote healthy ageing and be prepared for the challenges that are imminent in the coming years.

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