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Population ageing is Australasia’s greatest health challenge

Population ageing is Australasia’s greatest health policy challenge

If “demography is destiny”, emergency departments will inevitably be overwhelmed by the acute care needs of older people, according to a paper published in the latest issue of Emergency Medicine Australasia, the journal of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.

Dr Glenn Arendts, from the Centre for Clinical Research in Emergency Medicine at the University of Western Australia, and Dr Judy Lowthian, from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, studied trends in emergency health service usage by older people and the consequences of increasing hospitalisation rates in the elderly.

“Population ageing is the definitive health policy challenge in Australasia, and the greatest stressor for emergency medicine posed by population ageing is the disproportionate contribution of older people to hospital occupancy,” they said.

Many of these older people carry a high burden of chronic disease and co-morbidity.

“Nearly half of all hospital bed days in Australia are devoted to people aged 65 and over, and the proportion of the population in this age bracket will double by 2050.

“Older people have an increased risk of ED attendance, re-attendance, and admission to hospital, which impacts on all aspects of emergency and acute hospital care and patient flow.

“Emergency medicine research has logically been focussed on care within the confines of the ED, but this constraint cannot sufficiently address the most important issues associated with the persisting rise in demand by older people for acute medical services.

“Emergency department practices and models of care may on occasions contribute to rather than reduce high hospital occupancy in older people, benefitting neither individual patients nor the community at large,” the researchers said.

Dr Arendts and Dr Lowthian presented an introduction to this research at a conference of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine in November 2012.


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