On Oct. 1, the International Day of Older Persons, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its first World Report on Aging and Health. It comes at a propitious moment in history. Japan, already the world's most aged society with over a quarter of its citizens over 65 years, also has the world's longest life expectancy. Japan is not alone. Worldwide, this year 901 million people are aged 60 and over (12.3 per cent of the total population). It is projected that this figure will reach 1.4 billion by 2030 and just over 2 billion by 2050 (or about 22 percent of the world's population).

The director-general of the WHO, Margaret Chan, noted that "today, most people, even in the poorest countries, are living longer lives. But this is not enough. We need to ensure these extra years are healthy, meaningful and dignified. Achieving this will not just be good for older people, it will be good for society as a whole."

The concept of healthy aging shifts our thinking about health in older persons from solely the presence or absence of disease to a focus on an older person's well-being, as well as their ability to function well and meaningfully within the context that they live in. To achieve this will require radical changes in society perceives older people and supports them, as well as in our health and social care systems, if we are to collectively benefit from these extra years of life.