Dr Diarmuid O’Shea
Consultant Geriatrician and President, The Irish Gerontological Society
While there is no specific age at which one is ‘old’ or ‘young’, it is a fact that populations are getting older. Ageing populations will influence health and social systems in multiple ways.
The emerging issues associated with population ageing impact health, economic and social systems in our own country.
Ageing populations will influence social and health systems in multiple ways, including the need to increase spend and address management of chronic illness and disease.
In Ireland, recent CSO figures show that the percentage of the population aged over 65 will increase from 13.3% in 2016 to 18.1% by 2031 and 24.6% by 2051. It is predicted that those over the age of 65 in Ireland will reach one million by 2031 and those over 80 will increase by 270% by 2051.
An older population can bring challenges to the health system needed to support them
This significant change in ageing demographics is a global phenomenon. This success challenges us all, as these additional lifespan years are not always lived in good health.
Chronic conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, dementia, respiratory diseases, diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, osteoporosis, falls, and frailty are among the conditions affecting ageing populations. They are among the reasons a comprehensive public health action on ageing is urgently needed.
We need a culture that upholds dignity, respect and compassion for each other over the course of our lives.
Working together is the key
Older people, policy makers, clinicians and health professionals must engage proactively in conversations around awareness, prevention, symptoms, solutions and treatments.
Interdisciplinary, cross-specialty, cross community engagement and collaboration are key in ensuring that society, health and social care services become and remain fit for purpose.
There are many examples of this excellence at work already in Ireland. The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (through the clinical programmes, training and education), in conjunction with the HSE, play a critical role.
They provide the vision and clinical leadership for managing chronic diseases and ageing well, along with the many voluntary organisations like ALONE, the Alzheimer’s Society, the Irish Gerontological Society and the many other voluntary societies around our country.
Innovations must translate to improvements for older people
We all live and work in a complex and changing world. Digital literacy has become a requirement for participation in most day to day activities. We must ensure that our online, digital, and cloud-dominated tech-world is accessible to all, not just the young.
Innovations in treatments and technologies – in particular in the growing field of gerontechnology – must be translated into improvements in the wellbeing, health and care of older people, and support for us all to age well at home.
We have a wonderful opportunity in Ireland to lead the charge and change in support for all us as we age. We all want to age well. As a country we must strive to become an Ireland that leads the world in becoming age-attuned, age-accommodating and age-friendly.
To do this we need a culture that upholds dignity, respect and compassion for each other over the course of our lives. We also need support to live well into old age, and timely access to supports if and when we need them.
While we each have a personal responsibility, there is also a shared societal and governmental policy responsibility. These are all interconnected. Progress cannot happen unless we all work together.