Allan Takes Aim Blog

Old age is an age old problem

Posted on: 24 February 2010

Published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 23 February 2010

The 2010 Intergenerational Report says the challenges Australia faces over the next 40 years are an ageing population and the pressure this will put on the health system. Social analysts and demographers also pontificate along these lines. However, many older people on Age Pensions and without private health insurance see the emphasis ageing as a kind of verbal bullying that makes them think that some politicians believe that if they took themselves off to some secret place and died, Australia would be better off.

In any case, what is the definition of old? Is it 55, the age at which Public Servants can take their pension or the ages that currently apply to men and women? I ask because, except for employers (and Governments that want rid of the age pension) fewer and fewer people think of 55 as old. Indeed the definitions that once existed for age groups have changed because we now live in is a world that has never previously existed.

For example, once upon a time youth was defined as 0-20. Well, if the push to reduce the voting age to 16 comes about it will be necessary for a new definition not only of youth but other age brackets.

I suggest the new age definition scale should be: youth 0-15; mature youth 16 – 25; young adult 26-35; senior adult 36 – 45; middle aged 46 – 55. Old would start at 55 and last ’til 65. The tag of ancient would apply to people 65 – 75, 75 –85 would be very ancient and anyone over 85 would be extremely ancient.

And that would only be the start of the changes. In the not too distant future as science further increases life expectancy, as I expect it will, no doubt the definitions of age will need to change again. Indeed I can imagine a Methuselah age being born. (Methuselah: Noah’s grandson, reputed to have lived 969 years, whose name is now a synonym for people who live to a very great age.)

However, as life expectancy increases, unless ageing people can enjoy a healthy, active life, the number of them who will become disabled, experience dementia or alzheimer’s is likely to grow to an extent that will have enormous social ramifications unless money is made available to maintain services, even at today’s level.
To try and minimise costs a start has already been made. On 1 July 2017 the qualifying pension age for a male goes from 65 to 65.5 years and thereafter increases by 6 months every 2 years until reaching 67 on 1 July 2023. And once a woman’s qualifying age for the pension has reached 65 under existing rules, 4 years later the same changes will apply. However, if care is not taken to ensure that services for the ageing have not improved and expanded, these problems will have blown out enormously leaving many pensioners unable to enjoy their retirement.
And when I say enjoy their retirement I do not mean living a life of luxury. Indeed I have yet to meet a pensioner who wants a life of luxury. On the other hand because they feel they have contributed significantly to Australia’s economic wellbeing, neither do they want to be seen as lepers and isolated from the community.

It would be nice to think that research shows that the quality of life is increasing as length of life increases. Unfortunately it doesn’t. What it shows is that the degenerative diseases like disability, dementia and alzheimer’s are increasing rapidly and outstripping society’s capacity to cope. And because the position seems unlikely to change in the long term and because society seems to be more concerned about material values, it seems likely the push for euthanasia will become stronger.

An increased push for euthanasia will, of course, raise serious moral and ethical questions. Not only might it make many aged people think of committing suicide it might also attract relatives who care for them to consider assisting them.

If this column has a moral it is: just as it is necessary to care well for the young to grow up and enjoy life, it is also necessary to do the same for those growing old.
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3 Responses to "Old age is an age old problem"

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