Ageing Well, Ageing Productively: The Essential Contribution of Australia’s Ageing Population to the Social and Economic Prosperity of the Nation
In Australia we have become preoccupied with the potential adverse impact of our ageing population on our health and social systems. The projected cost of having increasing proportions of our population in the over 70’s, retired, chronically ill category of the demographic profile is emerging as a major challenge for governments and private insurers, so much so in fact that the government is now urging older people to stay at work longer! In America, new approaches to the management and self-management of chronic diseases have been invoked to encourage and support older people to improve their quality of life and reduce their recourse to and dependence upon health care technologies, clinical interventions and health care management systems. Unless this is achieved, it is argued, the cost of looking after this emerging ‘bubble’ of elderly people will become increasingly un-sustainable (1) as fewer and fewer (proportionately) younger people work to pay the taxes that support aging, retired, sick and dependent populations. We are at real risk, it is being argued, of having our economic wealth and productivity impeded and truncated by the financial burden of looking after high demand and high cost dependents at the aged end of the social demographic. This paper offers an alternative view of our aging population, highlights some of the assets we have in our elderly populations, and provides suggestions as to an alternative view of the phenomenon of aging that incorporates elements such as flexible working arrangements and the application of new, enabling technologies. This approach to our aging population dilemma is predicated on a concept of lifelong learning and social participation along with better preventive and early intervention systems of health care. It is argued that, if managed more creatively, the potential threats embodied in our ageing demographic might be turned into benefits. In addition, it is suggested that if preventive health care is not advanced rapidly, the impact of managing our elderly populations will increase at the same time as our younger populations also fall victim earlier and earlier in life to preventable chronic illness and lifestyle related diseases such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Under such conditions, two consecutive generations would then be depended upon the health care and social security system concurrently, creating an unworkable economic and social situation for Australia.
Keywords: Aging, Preventive Health Care, Self-Management, Service Demand
Professor Peter W. Harvey
Senior Lecturer, School of Population Health and Clinical Practice, The University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia