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Growing Old In Australia Is Not

Growing old in Australia is not an unusual phenomenon. Australians have one of the highest reported life expectancies in the entire world, coming in 6th highest according to the World Health Organization’s 2016 rankings behind Japan ranked 1st, Switzerland, Spain, Singapore, and France (WHO, 2018). The United States of America comes in 34th highest on the same World Health Organization 2016 list for comparative data (WHO 2018). The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports the proportion of those 65 and older comprise about 15% of the total population (Australia’s Health 2018, p. 7). By 2050, the proportion of those 65 and older is predicted to increase to around 25% of the total population (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014, p. 2). Australia’s life expectancy has steadily risen over time since some of the first data recorded in 1886. The most recent data from 2016 reports the life expectancy at birth to be an average of 82.5 years, further broken down to 80.4 years for males and 84.6 years for females (Australia’s Health, p. 10). Comparing this to The United States of America’s 2016 data report of 78.6 years average, 76.1 years for males, and 81.1 years for females (CDC, 2018). This trend of steadily increasing life expectancy is common across developed countries in the majority of the world. As heavily discussed in class, there are many factors that affect life expectancy including gender, race, behavioral and lifestyle factors, and others.

The top five causes of death for those aged 65-75, from most to least prevalent, include lung cancer, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cerebrovascular disease, and colorectal cancer (Australia’s Health 2018, p. 90). This report also shows that those over 75 have an increasing number of deaths caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (Australia’s Health 2018, p. 90). This trend of increasing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses relates to another topic discussed in class on how people are continuing to live longer than before, which is why it is possible to detect this type of disease more often.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare states in a web report that many chronic health issues Australians are diagnosed with can be directly linked to behavioral factors:

Many serious health issues, including some chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, influenza and high blood pressure) can relate to lifestyle factors—particularly lack of physical exercise, poor nutrition, obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, non-vaccination and psychological distress (Older Australia at a glance, 2018).

It has been shown through multiple research studies that physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles can be linked to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Australian national guidelines indicate that older adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week (Department of Health 2017). According to the Older Australia at a glance web report, 37% of people age 65 and older report being insufficiently active, and 28% report doing no exercise at all (Older Australia at a glance, 2018). This risk factor of physical inactivity may be why coronary heart disease is the second most common cause of death in Australia. Another important behavioral risk factor that can be linked to a leading cause of death in Australia is smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor that can be directly linked to diseases such as coronary heart disease, lung disease, and cancer all which are shown to be top causes of death in Australia (Older Australia at a glance, 2018). This web report states that 35% of those aged 65-74 and 32% of those aged 75 and over reported being previous smokers; 44% of those aged 65-74 and 41% of those age 75 and older smoked on average 20 or more cigarettes per day (Older Australia at a glance, 2018). Although rates of smoking have decreased over the years, smoking at any point in your life may increase your risk for disease in later years.

Despite the multiple chronic diseases brought upon by these behavioral factors, when surveyed, Australians rate their overall health as well. In 2014-2015, more than half of Australians 15 years and older self-reported their health as being ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ (Australia’s Health 2018, p. 12). Overall, many resources show that Australians tend to die from chronic illnesses rather than acute or preventable diseases. Despite the fact that many of these chronic illnesses can be prevented by changing behavior, Australians do not seem to have a problem managing their chronic illnesses into old age.

According to Australia’s Health, in 2016 more men died of coronary heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more women died of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and cerebrovascular disease (Australia’s Health 2018, p. 89). A possibility that suggests why dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is more prevalent in women is because women live longer, and as stated in class, dementia diseases are diagnosed more frequently in the middle-old and oldest-old age categories which women are reaching in Australia. I was unable to find specific reasoning as to why the statistics for men are the way they are.

In Australia, there is currently no set age requirement a citizen must be in order to retire. Citizens may retire when they desire, but many continue to work until they are eligible to receive age pension. The Australian Government Department of Human Services states that in order to receive age pension, one must be at least 65 years or older (Department of Human Services, 2018). Other factors such as residency status, previous income, and assets owned effect the amount of age pension one is eligible to receive (Department of Human Services, 2018). There are tests available online that a citizen may take in order to estimate the amount they may be eligible for. In January 2018, Australians aged 65 and over had a workforce participation rate of 13% compared to 8% in 2006 (Older Australia at a glance, 2018). This may be related to the age pension rule. There are some major issues predicted to arise with the age pension system in Australia. Currently about 80% of Australia citizens age 65 and older rely on age pension (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014, p. 2). While there are currently no major issues with this system, the Australian Human Rights Commission states that there will be some major issues to consider by 2041. Currently, there are five people of working age that support each person aged 65 and older receiving age pension, but by 2041 there will only be 2.5 people of working age to support each older adult receiving age pension (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014, p. 2). The decrease of support by half is a concerning issue that is caused by the steadily increase of those 65 and older compared to the rest of the younger and working population.

Australia has many options available for older adults who require care. There are community-based aged care options such as Commonwealth Home Support Programme and Home Care Packages Programme, and also residential aged care options (Older Australia at a glance, 2018). Following another trend discussed in class, many older adults in Australia prefer to stay in their own homes as long as possible rather than live in a residential care facility. Duckett & Willcox noted a shift of care policy favoring integrated community care programs rather than residential programs in order to prevent the premature admission of older adults into long-term care facilities (Duckett & Willcox, 2015, p. 335). Community based programs are geared toward older adults who want to continue living in their own homes but require small amounts of care, and residential care facilities provide short-term and long-term accommodations for those who require increased care needs (Older Australia at a glance, 2018). Aged care services are funded by the government, private companies, or nonprofit organizations (GEN Aged Care Data, 2017). Fortunately for Australians, there are many factors within the country that support older adults to stay in their own homes as long as they can.

There are many interesting policies and programs that set Australia apart from other countries. The World Health Organization has a set of standards they require for a location to be considered an age-friendly city. Age-friendly cities are places where older adults are consciously accommodated so they are able to maintain independence and promote optimal aging. In Western Australia, the City of Melville, Rockingham, and Fremantle are considered age-friendly cities (Government of Western Australia, 2017). Being able to navigate around town with ease is huge for older adults in order to maintain their independence and be able to get out of the house for socialization.

In conclusion, many factors that contribute to Australia’s longevity which are very similar to the many developed countries reported on in class. Access to aged-care, living in an age-friendly city, and eligibility to aged pension and behavioral factors are just some of the many contributions to living a long life in Australia.