Comment: Challenge of an ageing population

Comment: Challenge of an ageing population

Ireland is getting older, faster. The number of people in Ireland aged 65 and over has increased by 32.8 per cent since 2007, a faster rate of growth than other EU countries.

By any measure, increased life expectancy is a good yardstick of how far we have progressed as a society, with better social conditions and an enhanced standard of living aiding people's longevity.

The Central Statistics Office estimates that by 2046, Ireland will be home to just over 5.6 million people, with an elderly population accounting for a considerable portion of this.

And this will present significant challenges to us as a society, not least in the area of healthcare.

As the trolley crisis and the shortage of hospital beds demonstrates, our infrastructure is struggling to keep pace even as it is with the influx of greater numbers of people trying to access it every year. The evidence also suggests that there are growing waiting lists for even basic health services.

Healthcare professionals have sounded the warning bells, highlighting that at least 325 new hospital beds will be needed every year for the next two decades to keep pace.

The figures are phenomenal in themselves with hugh increases in the age groups of over 65 and 85.

It's an unprecedented situation, one which represents a huge challenge for policy and those who craft it.

The National Positive Ageing Strategy, which was produced by the government in 2013, sought to address “one of the most significant demographic and social developments that Irish society has encountered.”

Amongst its aims are the prevention and reduction of chronic disease and the provision of “affordable, accessible, high quality and age friendly health and social services.”

The stated government policy seeks to support older people living in their own homes and communities with the aid of home care packages.

However, its never as simple as this, as the cyclical pressure on our health system demonstrates time and again.

We should rejoice in having an older populations, but we should also be concerned with having an instrastructure which can cater to this population.

Demand will only increase every year, and that demand must be met.