IRELAND is facing an ageing crisis. Take a walk down any main street across the country in the coming years and the numbers of people over the age of 65 will have increased dramatically.
In fact, the EU has predicted that one in 10 people living here will be over the age of 80 by 2060.
It may seem a long way off but action must be taken now to deal with the extra health care, social and pension needs that an ageing population requires.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Helen McEntee expressed the need for urgent action.
“It’s something that we need to address, and we do need to do it quickly, we can’t sit on this for 10 or 15 years because in the next 10 or 15 years, our elderly population, people over 60, 70 and 80, will have doubled and quadrupled.
“So this is something that we need to work on and I think the will is there,” she said.
Working out what that “something” is vital and coping with our elderly will have to take a multifaceted approach.
While the Fair Deal scheme, which has been up a running since 2009, goes some way to address elderly care it does not cater for the majority of people who would prefer to remain in their own homes.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael now seem to be in agreement that home care packages must be overhauled and extended.
However, home help hours have been slashed by 1.58 million since 2010 according to the Alone charity — this was during a period when the number of older people in Ireland increased by 18%.
Elderly people wanting to remain in their own homes simply cannot get the support they need.
Last week the Irish Examiner reported the plight of a 92-year-old woman who has remained in hospital for almost a year as a result of a lack of funding for a home care package. The woman, who had been approved for a homecare package, has remained a patient at Mayo University Hospital for almost 300 days because the money simply isn’t there to provide her with home help.
In the coming years our already aching hospitals will have to be re-engineered to cope with more elderly related illnesses and issues.
A policy of putting healthcare back into the community through primary health centres is now being rolled out. Move the dependency away from the acute hospital setting will be a priority for Ms McEntee and the government.
“The aim is to bring more supports to the primary care setting, sometimes people go into hospitals when they don’t need to be there at all, for something simple that can get done within their community and that’s why we are investing in primary care centres, that’s why we are investing in more staff, more nurses and more doctors within the communities.
She added: “Sometimes if a person goes into hospital with something minor they catch something else and then they actually end up getting sicker and then they are told they have to go into a nursing home.”
But the figures are stark and to achieve this a massive increase in funding and support will be required.
The European Commission’s Ageing Report shows those aged 80 and over will make up 10 per cent of the population by 2060.
Ireland’s total population will increase to 5.3 million by the same year.
The average life expectancy will also jump from 79 to 85 for men and from 83 to 89 for women. In the next four decades Ireland’s elderly population — which is defined as including anyone over 80 years of age — will rise from 2.9% to 10.2%.
Time to start planning.
What is Fair Deal scheme and how does it work?
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