Nicola Donnelly, Communications Officer at the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI). CARDI is a non-profit research-focused organisation established in 2007 by leaders from the ageing field across Ireland, both North and South. It receives support from The Atlantic Philanthropies and is hosted by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland.
Ireland’s ageing population
Although still relatively young by EU standards, the population of Ireland is ageing. The proportion of people 65 and over is growing rapidly and many people are now living longer and healthier lives. This demographic transformation provides policymakers with many opportunities and challenges. Ageing research can play a vital role in supporting effective policymaking to help make Ireland a great place to grow old. It can also help ensure that older people’s contribution is recognised and valued.
One in every five people walking down Grafton Street in twenty years will be over 65
Currently there are 540,000 people aged 65+ in Ireland which accounts, for 12% of the total population. This is set to rise to 1.4m, or 22% of the total population, by 2041 (Central Statistics Office, 2013). While the projected changes in the population aged 65-and-over are striking, changes for the group aged 80 and over are even more dramatic. Over the same thirty-year period, the number of people aged 80 and over in Ireland is projected to rise from 130,600 to 458,000 – an increase of 250%. Ageing on this scale is unprecedented in Irish history (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), 2014).
Life expectancy at birth is now 76.8 years for men and 81.6 years for women
This population shift is mostly due to the dramatic increase in life expectancy experienced in Ireland in the past 100 years. Life expectancy at birth is now 76.8 years for men and 81.6 years for women (CSO, 2013).The ageing population is, on one hand, a tremendous success story, but while many of us are living healthier lives into old age, this is not universal.
Ireland’s ageing population requires careful planning and policymaking that is grounded in evidence and research so that the future of old age in Ireland is one that promises everyone a healthier, more secure, and fulfilled later life. Since its establishment, CARDI has worked to develop the ageing research community in Ireland and to increase its impact through funding, communication and dissemination activities to help secure this aim.
26% of people aged 50 and over are entirely dependent on the state for their income
Considerable health, social, and economic inequalities have yet to be overcome to help us achieve a healthy, active and fulfilling old age for all. For example, while recent decades have seen a reduction in the levels of poverty experienced by older people to a low of just over 9% living in deprivation in 2009, more recent data shows a rise in this figure to 11% (CSO, 2013). In addition, the number of older people totally reliant on state supports for income remains high. More than one-quarter of all people (26%) aged 50-and-over have no income other than what they get from the state (TILDA, 2014).
Healthcare costs relating to older people are expected to rise from 6% to 11% of GDP by 2050
An ageing population brings implications for policy, service delivery, and long-term planning in diverse areas such as transport, health, housing, education and employment. One key area of concern when considering Ireland’s ageing population is the cost of healthcare and the provision of long-term care. Healthcare costs are undoubtedly on the rise and costs relating to older peopleare expected to rise from 6% of GDP currently to 11% of GDP by 2050 as demand for health services grow.
For every year from now until 2021, an extra 818 additional people will need nursing home care
As our population ages and the numbers of people requiring residential care is increasing. In 2012, research funded by the CARDI found that the number of people aged 65 and over using residential care will rise to 12,270 by 2021 – an increase of 59% since 2006 (Wren et al 2012). This means that for every year from now until 2021, an extra 818 additional people will need residential long-term care, but only 300 places are being created in 2015.
47% of older people in Ireland provide care to grandchildren
Discussion about the ageing population is often dominated by debate about the challenges and costs associated with a growing proportion of older people in society. However, it is also important to acknowledge the great contribution made by older people in many areas of life in Ireland. For example, the TILDA study of over 50s in Ireland highlights the economic and social contributions made by older people through financial transfers and care provision. Over one-quarter of older households reported giving a financial or material gift worth €5,000 or more to one (or more) of their children within the last ten years. Of those households that gave money to children, the mean value is €60,512, while the median value was €20,000. In addition, over one-third of older adults (36%) provide practical household help including shopping and household chores to their adult children and 47% provide care to grandchildren (TILDA, 2011&2014).
Planning and good policy making can help meet the challenges ahead for Ireland’s ageing population. Recognising the importance of tackling issues of health and socioeconomic inequalities among older people and across all age groups is key to ensuring a better future for us all. It is important, too, that we celebrate and embrace the opportunities that an ageing population will bring. By focusing only on perceived negative impacts we do a disservice not only to the older generation but to society as a whole. Increased longevity is a great success and it is vital that we focus on promoting a healthy active lifestyle across the life-course, so we can all enjoy longer and more fulfilled lives.