Gloal population aging trends: Coursework for Re-thinking aging

Currently, I am participating in an massive online open course (MOOC) from the University of Melbourne on the topic of Re-thinking aging:  are we prepared to live longer?

The free course is offered through Coursera; it started the last week in April and runs for 5 weeks. You can read more about the course and sign up for future offerings at:

We were encouraged to keep a journal or blog about our journey through the course, particularly to note where our opinions and ideas have changed from the beginning of the course to the end. I thought this would be a great opportunity to share the course information and my opinions with you – a little something different than my usual posts 🙂 As such, this will be a work in progress over the next 5 weeks.

Week 1:  Worldwide Population Aging Trends

Week 1 is focused on global population aging. During this week, we heard about how aging trends are measured, what the terms mean, some of the implications of population aging, and completed our first assignment were we chose one country to examine their leading causes of disability, death and life expectancy.

future trends in life expectancy


Q:  What do you think about when you think about aging?

A: When I think about aging, I first think of older adults, typically I think of healthier and/or more active and independent older adults. Next, I think about the life course perspective, that we age throughout our entire lives and that it is a process, not one particular age category or stage of life. I tend to think more about the psychological aspects of aging such as the emotions, experiences, and personal growth that occurs as we live our lives and age.

Q:  What are some of the implications of global population aging (good and bad)? Consider work, family and society in general.

A: Some good implications of global population aging is that there is a greater potential for the knowledge and wisdom that often accompanies aging – if/when older adults have a stronger voice in their communities, there is much to be gained. Another benefit I can envision is that way of life will become easier, as we optimize many aspects of daily life so that functioning, movement, physical tasks and socialization becomes easier to carry out (an example is wider sidewalks and reduction in mobility hazards to accommodate an increasing number of people with mobility issues will actually benefit others in their community).

A negative side of global population aging is that there are fewer skilled workers to provide the important hands-on functions needed, such as in health and social care for all (not just for the older adults). Fewer younger people can also have implications for less innovation, forward-thinking development and risk-taking as older adults tend to engage in these types of activities less, especially professionally.

Assignment:  one country’s profile.

I chose Denmark. The goal of this assignment was to look deeper into the statistics on the leading causes of disability, death and the rates of life expectancy in a particular country.

Per instructions, I used data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME)and their data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors study (GBD) for Denmark,, to compare Denmark and Global life expectancy.

1. How did you decide what country to select and did the country’s profile surprise you? Why or why not?

I decided on Denmark as I am living here as a foreigner and wanted to know an updated status on the aging projections for the country. I was pretty surprised to find that the main cause of Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) in 1990 was road injuries and that it had fallen over 60% since then (yea!). Danes are generally safe drivers and follow rules, so it was even surprising to me that road injuries was a leading cause.

2. What are the top three causes of premature death in your country in 2010? How are these different, or not, from the top three causes of premature death in 1990?

In 1990, the leading causes of YLL due to death are:
  1. Ischemic heart disease
  2. Cerebrovascular disease, and
  3. Lung cancer.
In 2013, the leading causes of YLL due to death are:
  1. Ischemic heart disease
  2. Lung cancer, and
  3. Cerebrovascular disease. (data was readily available for 2013, so I chose to use that information rather than combing back through for 2010 data).
It appears that only 2 and 3 have switched places, but the rates have fluctuted quite a bit as well. By 2013, heart disease decreased by 62%, lung cancer by 15%, and cerebrovascular disease by 36%. I would guess these decreases were in part due to national (and rather successful) campaigns to reduce smoking and increase exercise and activity. When I first moved to Denmark in 2005, 50% of the population smoked daily, down to around 20% now.
3. What are the five leading causes of Years Lived with Disability (YLDs) in your country? What is the leading cause of years with disability for those 80 years or older? It might be hard to tell on the graph so you can pick more than one.
  1.  Low back and neck pain
  2. Depressive disorders
  3. Skin diseases
  4. Sense organ diseases
  5. Falls
The leading cause of YLDs for those over 70 years old in 2013 is Non-communicable Diseases, the same as the global results. (Information for Denmark was readily available for 2013, not 2010).
4. Consider the leading causes of premature death and the leading causes of years with disability – what risk factors come to mind? Are these risk factors similar to the top three risk factors the Global Burden of Disease study highlighted? Note any differences or surprises you may have when you look at these risk factors.

The leading causes of death are heart and lung diseases/cancers and the leading causes of disability are back/neck pain, depression and skin diseases (Danes used to love to tan a lot, and recent initiatives to reduce this have been implemented). Initially, they may not look related, but thinking a bit more about them, they can be.

When people have chronic pain and/or depression, they tend to be more sedentary and socially isolated, which can increase risks for heart and lung problems over time. Skin diseases do not seem to be as related to the other causes of disability or death.

5. In looking at life expectancy – how does your country compare with the other countries listed? How does it compare between 1990 and 2010? These comparisons can help determine where your selected country is succeeding and where it could be falling behind. For the purposes of this assignment – focus on the column for ‘Life expectancy at birth’ as that is the most cited category for country comparisons.

Life expectancy in Denmark is higher than the global average. In 1990, it was 72.3 for Males and 77.8 for Females.

In 2013, this has increased to 77.8 for Males and 82.0 for Females.

For both genders combined, Denmark increased from about 75 in 1990 to around 80 in 2013.

That wraps up Week 1 of the course. Now, I would really enjoy your opinions and insights in the comments, please share what you think!


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