In Australia, the average age as of 2016 is 37 years and this number is expected to rise over the next few decades. The average life expectancy in Australia is 82 years, in the UK it is 81 and USA it is 78 years. The World Health Organisation estimates that the number of people aged 65 and older is expected to reach 1.5 billion by 2050. With most of the increase in developing countries, also, the number of people over the age of 65 years is expected to outnumber children younger than 5 years. The World health organisation estimates that by 2020, people over the age of 60 will outnumber children under the age of five.
The rapid size increase in the elderly population can be attributed to change in the leading cause of death from infectious diseases to chronic non-communicable disease which increases the life expectancy. For example hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure and high cholesterol to name a few. Chronic conditions like heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, dementia have had the most significant impact on the ageing population. In Australia, in particular, 70% of the patients in acute health care are older adults.
The ageing population will affect the income raising capability of the government. meaning the government will be spending more than the money they are making. Currently, the Australian government funds majority of health and aged care services, the amount of money spent on aged care doubled to about 4 per cent GDP in the last 30 years. According to The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities, aged care spending was expected to almost treble from 0.7 per cent of GDP in 2002 to 1.8 per cent of the GDP in 2041.
Below are some of the challenges the ageing population will bring according to Pharmacy times
Expected challenges to the health care system include the following
- Resource needs will continue to increase across all healthcare settings
- The incidence of obesity will continue to increase
- A shortage of healthcare professionals is expected
- The diversity of caregivers lags behind the growing diversity of patients
- Care has been focused on a single disease versus addressing comorbidity
- The sustainability and structure of federal programs in relation to the increasing ageing population are a concern
- Changes in family structure may lead to fewer family caregivers
- Adapting and adjusting to the Affordable Care Act pose challenges
As the population ages, the healthcare system will need to focus on reduction of the prevalence of the risk factors before the disease develops. For example health campaigns to encourage people to eat healthily and exercise more. After the disease develops, care should focus on preventing the progression of the disease. Also the reduction of morbidity from the complications that have already developed. When older adults are admitted to hospitals, care should be developed to enhance patient independence by involving the various health disciplines like physiotherapist and social workers. Other preventative measures that can be put in place is the prevention of falls, the impact of falls on the elderly can often mean life and death. And in often cases a fall may signal the start of deterioration, after a fall they lose independence and depression sets in.
The current trends in population in my view are as a result of a shift in priorities, especially in larger cities. People are having fewer children and are having them later in life. Children are then put in day-care early, for various reasons. After day-care they go to school 5 days a week from 8-4, they come back home have dinner and go to bed. The point here is a large population means busy lives. Busy lives mean we neglect the very things that we should be looking after.
Also, the push current push to encourage the elderly to spend more time at home instead of nursing homes is likely to be what is contributing to the high levels of loneliness among the elderly. In nursing homes, residents get 24-hour service care and get human interaction on a 24-hour basis. At home is where most of the falls happen, and for the elderly population that live alone, this can often mean life or death. According to the CDC each year 2.8 million older adults are treated in the emergency department for fall-related injuries. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries and each year in America at least 300,000 older people are hospitalised for hip fractures.
In conclusion, as the population ages, the role of primary health caregivers like GP’s, community nurses, allied health professionals, midwives, pharmacists, dentists, and Aboriginal health workers cannot be overstated. The types of services delivered under primary health care are broad ranging and include health promotion, prevention and screening, early intervention, treatment and management.
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