Tuesday, 21 May 2013

GROWING OLDER………and older………….and older……….

GROWING OLDER………and older………….and older……….
At her Dublin concert last week Emmy Lou Harris spoke of her greatest regret about getting older, which was losing friends. Then sang her haunting tribute to her dear friend singer Kate McGarrigle who died last year.

Today I received an email from a uni mate to say a mutual friend had died and was being farewelled this week; sadly such emails are more frequent these days.

These events come on the back of a recent fascinating conference presentation by Benedict Clements of the IMF and a discussion with the ISQua President, Tracey Cooper both of which highlighted the ticking time bomb of our aging world population.

The OECD graph below provided by Dr Cooper is striking in two ways, the first being the sheer increase in the ‘over 80s’ over the next few decades, and the second being the increasing separation of the life expectancy lines – representing countries - on the graph.
The pressure this will place on healthcare services and, of course costs and quality is but one of a number of issues that will confront those who have to make the world work in the future, some others being the need for increased food and fuel production and the negative impact a growing population will inevitably have on air and water quality and other environmental considerations such as the welfare of non-human animals and of the plant world as they compete with human animals for all the things needed to sustain life on the planet.

Benedict Clements presented data on current life expectancy in various countries graphed against health expenditure in those countries. This was of particular interest in that it showed:

·         a cluster of developed countries such as Japan, some Scandinavian countries and Australia where life expectancy was amongst the highest yet health expenditure is comparatively modest, which is, on the face of it, a curious combination;

·         many developing countries and some countries with struggling economies where health care expenditure is low and so is life expectancy, which is not unexpected; and

·         some countries, notably the USA, where expenditure is high yet life expectancy falls somewhere between the two groups of countries just mentioned. It does have to be acknowledged however that unfortunate complexities and anomalies in the US health care ‘system’ has a lot to do with how this country fares.
The IMF has reported elsewhere on the impact of an aging population in recent times as follows:

The International Monetary Fund has warned that life expectancy may rise faster than governments and financial institutions are forecasting, posing a risk to financial stability.

Underestimate the elderly at your peril is the warning from the International Monetary Fund. Statisticians and economists may be downplaying the lengthening of the human lifespan. If they’re doing so by the same three years as in recent decades, the IMF reckons the cost of pensions and healthcare will be 50 percent higher than estimated. Something, almost certainly the age of retirement, will have to give.

More distress is on the way, however, unless more permanent solutions are found. Tying the retirement age - and benefits - to the escalating life expectancy is the simplest step. A few pioneers, like Denmark and Sweden, have already moved in this direction. Other nations would be wise to follow suit quickly. Delaying will only make the final reckoning more painful.

It would appear the Danes and Swedes are saying, in effect, that either you support your own retirement or you work longer because the state cannot afford to support more and more people in retirement.

One might hope that the funds released as a result of such an approach will be directed towards addressing some of the problems referred to above that an aging population will create. If introduced globally this might alleviate the problem – but GOOD LUCK, recent riots in a number of European countries against various austerity measures, including raising the retirement age, suggest such a move would be a challenge to say the least.

In the meantime, while by no means encouraging complacency, let us age gracefully. My wife is doing so as she has accepted that in her audition for a part in Dublin’s Shakespeare in the Park production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this summer she should really try out for the part of Puck or even Bottom rather than Titania.


The ISQua Special Interest Group on Social Care for Older Persons will be holding a pre-conference session at the 2013 ISQua International Conference in Edinburgh on October 13 and will have sessions in the conference proper on the ensuing days. Contact Eadin for more information (emurphy@isqua.org).

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