ACT News

Can Australia afford to age gracefully?

Australia's longevity boom is nascent but demographers are warning there is a 10-year window before a national aged care crisis hits.

More Australians than ever are reaching 100 years of age. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show 4400 Australians reached the milestone and received birthday wishes from the Queen in the year to June 2015.

Australia is ageing. The number of people aged 65 and over increased by 3.4 per cent, compared to an overall population increase of 1.4 per cent that year.

While Birth, Deaths and Marriage statistics capture only those who were both born and died in the ACT, the growth in the number of centenarians is observable in the capital too.

In 2013 there were eight people who were born and died aged more than 100 years old in the ACT.

That figure almost doubled in 2014, reaching 15, and increased again to 18 in 2015.

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University of Adelaide's acting director of the Australian Population and Migration and Research Centre Dr Helen Feist said the longevity phenomenon was here to stay, but the most testing times were still ahead.

"Most of Australia's Baby Boomers are still living at home as independently and healthy people," she said. "We haven't yet seen the impact of that population bulge moving through retirement and old age, but that's when we are going to see the biggest demands on our aged care system."  

With the oldest boomers in their '70s and the youngest in their '50s, Dr Feist said the strain on the sector would begin this decade and could last 30-40 years.

Societal and policy adjustments were necessary to accommodate longer lifespans, she said.

That may mean a reconsideration of retirement ages, adjustments to family and caring responsibilities, impacts on property retention and creating systems to promote financial self-sufficiency into later life.

"A person retiring in their 60s could be spending 30 or 40 years in retirement which is just unheard of, spending nearly as much time in employment as in retirement," she said.

Preparing for the hit was crucial but Dr Feist said the best part of the demographic debate about ageing was that time was on the country's side.

"It's not happening suddenly," she said. "We have time to prepare. When people turn 80 they start to use a lot more aged care services so we have a 10-year window to get it right before first of the Baby Boomers reach that more frail age."