The Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) submitted the below response to the recent Citizens’ Assembly meeting (10 June 2017) on ‘How we respond to the Challenges and Opportunities of an Ageing Population’.
The IPH response was as follows:
Challenges and Opportunities of an Ageing Population
Beard and Bloom writing in the Lancet in 2015 stated:
“Worldwide, populations are rapidly ageing. This demographic shift presents both opportunities and challenges….Many of the challenges associated with population ageing can be addressed by changes in behaviour and policy, especially those that promote good health in older age. However, so far, the debate on how best to achieve these changes has been narrow in scope. A comprehensive public health approach to population ageing that responds to the needs, capacities, and aspirations of older people and the changing contexts in which they function is needed” (Beard and Bloom 2015)
Ageing is unquestionably one of the great success stories in modern society for public health and for society as a whole. Advances in medical science, improved diet and living conditions and better healthcare have resulted in people living much longer lives and in the growth of the number of older people.
Today, on the island of Ireland, there are over one million people aged 60 and over and by 2041, 30% of the population will be aged over 60. Average life expectancy in the last century has risen in the Republic of Ireland for men at birth by 24.7 years and for women by 28.6 years (CSO, 2016). However, although we are living for longer, the picture on years spent in good health as a percentage of life expectancy is less clear, i.e. healthy years may not be increasing at the same pace as total life expectancy.
Looking forward, our ageing population in Ireland, North and South will have a major impact on the 21st Century in personal, social and economic spheres. This will require a significant policy response both nationally and internationally in areas such as the health, transport, work, pensions, home and residential care, lifelong learning and sustainable communities.
How we respond to the Challenges and Opportunities of an Ageing Population is an excellent theme and I would strongly encourage the Assembly to consider in their discussions and considerations:
- The impact of socio-economic inequalities within older people and across the lifecycle on health and well-being;
- Gender differences and experiences of ageing and later life – health, social and economic;
- Interventions for addressing loneliness within the older population;
- Supporting increased physical activity among older people;
- Workforce planning for an ageing population.
The Assembly is taking place at an important time:
- Ageing research is a growing area in Ireland, North and South, with academic institutions across Ireland, increasingly recognising it as a priority area e.g. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing led by Trinity College Dublin. Such research infrastructure and expertise in Ireland is a valuable evidence source to help inform considerations.
- The Healthy and Positive Ageing Initiative (HaPAI) has produced a National Indicators Report published in 2016 and holds valuable data at county level to illustrate regional issues.
- The Age Friendly Counties Programme is focused on the development of effective city and county-based initiatives.
- Minister McEntee of the Department of Health has formed a National Positive Ageing Forum, which has been established as part of the implementation of the National Positive Ageing Strategy.
- In September 2015, IPH established The Ageing Research and Development Division focusing on the connections between public health and ageing and promoting public health intelligence for better policy-making and improved services.
To conclude, this Assembly theme is a significant opportunity to highlight that Ireland’s growing population of older people plays a critical role in society, be this through volunteering, helping families with caring responsibilities, participation in the paid labour force or financial support to their families or the economy.
Finally in planning for the ‘opportunities and challenges’ of demographic change, we need to consider the needs, capacities, and aspirations of not only today’s older people but future generations.