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Preparing for the “Age Quake”

Preparing for the “Age Quake”

‘Cataclysmic’, ‘threat’ and ‘crisis’ were among the terms used at the United Nations World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid last year to describe the global trend toward ageing.

With this negative terminology as the backdrop, the impact of New Zealand’s ageing population is the focus of a presentation to the New Zealand Futures Trust by Judith Davey, Associate Professor of Social Policy and Director of the New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing at Victoria University.

In her 25 June address, Preparing for the Age Quake, Dr Davey discusses New Zealand’s readiness for an ageing population in the context of the Government’s Positive Ageing Strategy and associated health and disability policies.

Dr Davey says most concern centres around ‘age dependency’, with increased demands for retirement income support, health and other age-related care services, particularly among those over 85 years old.

“By 2051, an estimated 290,000 people will be more than 85 years old, representing a 600 percent increase on the number of ‘older old’ living today. This trend can be viewed as an ageing of the ageing population,” says Dr Davey.

“Currently, health care and New Zealand Superannuation for people aged 85 and over costs $10 million and $11 million per week, respectively. While these figures are only indicative, we can expect costs to rise, particularly if asset-testing for residential care is removed.”

Dr Davey says gender, life expectancy, marital status patterns and living arrangements interlink to see a large proportion of women over 85 widowed and living alone.

“Women 85 and over are more likely to be in residential care than men (31% vs 19%) and are more vulnerable to accidents and abuse.”

Dr Davey says the 85 plus age group is predominantly Pakeha but ethnic diversity is likely to grow in the long-term, with increasing life expectancy for Maori and more ethnically diverse populations in future generations.

“The prospect of an ‘age quake’ remains open,“ she says. “With improved health at older ages and extended workforce involvement, the fiscal costs of ageing may be taken in our stride.”

“The rhetoric of positive ageing may replace the gloomy talk of burden. Favourable future prospects will require a preventive and positive policy approach – which promotes choice and independence for older people.

“Also important are personal attitudes – the extent to which older people adopt healthy lifestyles and a positive outlook, while planning to be more self-supporting in their retirement,” Dr Davey says.

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