Healthy ageing just the tonic

By Penny Langfield

Promoting healthy ageing rather than focusing on a “system of illness” may be one way to address myriad issues facing the world as populations grow older.

Late last week, delegates at the 5th Annual Australia’s Ageing Population Summit in Brisbane heard such solutions to the ageing crisis. There was consensus among attendees, many of them from government, that older populations present significant economic and healthcare issues for the world.

Sigrid Patterson, director of the Office for Ageing in NSW’s Department of Ageing – Disability and Home Care, discussed her state’s Towards 2030 Strategy, which helps plan for impending demographic changes. She said fresh approaches were required.

“We really need to focus on healthy ageing,” she said.

“A lot of the research so far around ageing has been on illness, so we’re looking at a system of illness rather than a system of health.”

She said barriers to ageing well included a person’s socio-economic status and lack of mobility, with governments needing to examine service provision to ensure such issues were tackled.

Concepts for healthy ageing included the requirement for a life-long approach to illness prevention, physical activity, healthy eating, falls prevention and social connectedness of communities.

“How can we encourage people in their middle youth to build the foundation for successful ageing, get people to plan for their future and plan for their retirement so when they retire they are healthy and able to sustain themselves and they can contribute to society?” Patterson asked.

Federal Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliott, told delegates such issues were not unique to Australia and resonated in nations such as Canada, Italy, the US, the UK and India.

“Australians now have the longest life expectancy of any English-speaking nation, which is a challenge but also a great opportunity for us as a nation,” she said.

Two million Australians were aged over 70 in 2006, a number expected to triple in 40 years. Elliott said such forecasts were driving many issues in the Federal Government’s reform agenda, from housing to workforce participation, social inclusion and the health and hospital systems.

“Public and private expenditure on aged care is projected to more than double to 2.9 per cent of GDP over the next 40 years. By way of comparison, currently the Australian Government spends 2 per cent of GDP on defence.”

Meanwhile, another issue about to bite the nation was “old-age poverty”, according to Dr Paul Gross, director of the Institute of Health Economics and Technology Assessment, Australia and Greater China.

He said a recent OECD paper showed Australia’s real investment from private pensions had gone down 27 per cent.

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