Australia is currently among the top 15 countries in the world when it comes to wellbeing of the elderly.
It ranks fourteenth to be exact, according to the Global AgeWatch Index 2013, a new study that looks at the welfare of people aged over 65 in over 90 different countries. The study was conducted by the United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge International, which advocates for policies in support of the elderly. It considers a number of metrics including health status, income security, employment and education opportunities in terms of how older populations across the globe are faring. At the top of the list is Sweden, followed by Norway and Germany.
It seems responding to the ageing issue is a challenge for all countries, but the greatest for developing countries that are often the least prepared for the impact of population changes. The study shows that developing countries such as Jordan, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Vietnam were also the fastest ageing ones, where the number of older people will more than triple by 2050. These countries ranked in the bottom half of the index.
The Global AgeWatch Index 2013 reinforces what we’ve known for some time – the world’s population is ageing faster than ever. By 2030, there will be more people across the globe aged over 60 than under 10. Already there are more adults aged over 60 than there are children under five.
In Australia, the number of people aged between 65 and 84 years is expected to more than double, as the number of people aged 85 years and over is expected to quadruple by 2050, according to the Australian Government’s Australia to 2050: Future Challenges. Of course, even in an elder-friendly country such as Australia, ageing is not without its challenges.
Collectively, we’re living longer than previous generations. As a result, the elderly are older and frailer by the time aged care becomes a necessity, and the level of care and support required is becoming increasingly complex. Aged care providers are under rising pressure to provide more diverse and flexible care services both in the residential aged care setting, as well as in the home and community. Yet, employers in aged care are challenged in the areas of recruitment and retention of skilled staff due to a declining an ageing workforce. This issue is obviously exacerbated by low levels of remuneration in the sector.
Aged care providers continue to operate in a revenue constrained environment, and face more pressure than ever to provide sufficient evidence to comply with the constant revisions to the ACFI funding model. Dealing with these pressures will mean the way we provide care to the most frail and vulnerable members of our community has to change.
A more responsive and coordinated system is needed. A system that delivers enhanced care and support outcomes, reduces the pressure on the government and leverages health resources in more effective and efficient ways. If there is a silver lining in such a situation it is that advancements in technology are already being utilised to improve services and enhance care outcomes.
For example, technology is already enabling our elderly population to manage their wellbeing and maintain their independence in their own homes, where they are most comfortable, for much longer. Some of the care and support services that were once restricted to within a residential aged care setting can now be delivered remotely, in the home.
Technology is playing a major role in helping aged care providers to improve quality, efficiency, productivity, and the day-to-day experiences of residents and their carers. While care-specific applications are contributing to fewer errors by enabling care providers to simplify administration processes, as well as accurately and safely coordinate and administer medications.
Technology also has the great potential to enhance collaboration between professionals across the healthcare community to support decision-making and improved care outcomes. At a time when costs are growing across all major categories of health and the number of elderly people requiring healthcare services is ballooning, there are considerable financial drivers for the government in increasing both transparency and efficiency across the sector.
Of course, there is no single solution that can solve all the challenges that we’re facing as a country. But given the power of modern technology to help us connect and work smarter – technology will undoubtedly be one of the key enablers in allowing us to prepare to care for a rapidly ageing society. And it is never too late to do more to prepare for the challenges – and opportunities – of an ageing society.
What role do you see technology playing in helping us better prepare to support the ageing population?
(Image credit: Renjith Krishnan)