Sink or Swim - Ageing in Australia

Article excerpt

Abstract

As the number of people under the age of 65 declines, the number over 65 will double in the next half century. By 2031, it is estimated those over 65 will account for more than a quarter of the Australian population. The fastest rate of growth will be in the over-85-years category, projected to double over the next 20 years and to triple over 50 years to include 2.3 million people. Health care providers cannot afford to wait for the inevitable crises this vast demographic shift will provoke. To meet these future demands, educational and health care institutes should consider establishing interdisciplinary think-tanks for multidisciplinary research, policy development and innovations in aged care and health service delivery.

Aust Health Rev 2005: 29(2): 146-150

Projections on ageing

AS AN AGEING POPULATION IS RECOGNISED to be a worldwide phenomenon, international and national health and research agencies are increasingly concerned that the issue of a changing demography should be addressed proactively, from an evidence-based perspective. In Australia, a review by the Australian Bureau of Statistics1 on population projections for 1997 to 2051 presents a scenario that cannot be ignored. Specifically, the review shows that the number of people over 65 years will more than double in the next half century - by 2031 it is estimated that more than a quarter of the Australian population will be aged over 65 years. This ageing of the population will occur simultaneously with a substantial reduction in the relative number of individuals under the age of 65. In addition, and more significantly, the fastest rate of growth will be in the number of people aged over 85 years, projected to double over the next 20 years and to triple over the next 50 years to reach 2.3 million.2

We believe health care providers need to respond proactively to this vast demographic shift, by beginning to develop health and aged care services that will be able to address these demands, rather than waiting to react to the inevitable future crises. At the same time the promotion of healthy ageing and the development of a non-discriminatory approach to ageing, as well as flexible employment opportunities, should be considered, and efforts should be made to try to adapt the health care and community environment to accommodate elderly people. Due to the large number of issues that need to be considered, it is important to adopt a multidisciplinary approach and involve all key stakeholders in the planning stages. Moreover, all of these initiatives need to be underpinned by the principles of the Aged Care Act 1997 (Cwlth)3 and must consider the economic implications of an ageing Australia and the affordability of measures to deal with it.

In this article, we discuss the implications of this phenomenon and the need for a paradigm shift from one which associates ageing with functional decline to one that fosters a culture of healthy ageing and values older citizens. We present a number of ideas and strategies that need to be considered to proactively address and manage the demographic change.

Economic implications

The economic ramifications of an ageing Australia will have important implications for service delivery and for the way in which society considers ageing. Maintaining current services in the absence of a proactive approach to our ageing population will see Australian Government spending increase to more than revenue in 15 years; this would lead to a deficit equal to 5.0% of the gross domestic product (GDP) - or $87 billion in today's dollars - by 204f-42.4 All projections indicate that an ageing population will mean vastly increased demands on health care services. Work by The Alien Consulting Group suggests that if the current aged care system continues broadly unchanged, the total cost of providing residential aged care could rise by almost 60% by 2020 - from 1.17% of GDP in 2000 to 1.84% of GDP ($7. …

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