Not the happiest of futures 6

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One of our most eminent experts on ageing Dr Peter Curson has painted a bleak picture of the future for older Australians.

Dr Curson, who is Emeritus Professor of Population and Health at Macquarie University, has concluded in a recent article that, “Despite the widespread belief that our health is good, the reality is that Australians are generally a relatively unhealthy lot and the evidence suggests that our health continues to worsen with age.”

He makes the point that today 15 per cent or 3.5 million Australians are aged over 65 and within the next 20 years this total will grow to 6.5 million. By 2050, more than 26 per cent — more than one in four people — will be over 65 and over the next 25–30 years the fastest growing population sector will be those aged over 80. He concludes that the number of people aged over 80 will “most probably double over the next 20 years and by 2050 there will be more than 2.5 million old old Australians.”

According to Dr Curson, “At present, roughly 75 per cent of all elderly Australians are suffering from some form of chronic condition” and “Today, by the age of 65 approximately five out of every 10 Australians suffer from a disability of some sort and by the age of 80 roughly eight out of 10. As our population continues to age so too will levels of chronic illness and disability continue to increase.”

The statistics he quotes are chilling: 3.7 million suffer from cardiovascular disease, 3.3 million from arthritis, 2.3 million from asthma and 500,000 with some form of cancer. Further, 80 per cent of us will suffer from back pain at some stage of our life, and 45 per cent of us will experience a mental disorder. By the age of 65, half of all men and one third of all women will have some form of cancer.

“On top of this at present, there are an estimated 342,000 Australians suffering from dementia and this will probably increase to more than 900,000 over the next 15 years. Add all of this to the fact that just under half of all Australians aged between 19 and 65 are inactive or poorly active and a large proportion overweight or obese, and you have some idea of what sort of future is staring us in the face,” Dr Curson wrote.

He described obesity as “a particular problem” since we have the fifth highest rate of obesity in the world for people aged over 15.

He warns that it is not just chronic disease or obesity that is etching away at out health.

“Most people believe that apart from the odd mosquito=borne infection like Zika, encountered on trips abroad, infectious disease has little impact upon their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether it be minor episodes of gastrointestinal upset or the common cold, most of us are lucky to survive a year without an infectious disease encounter. ” Dr Curson wrote.

“Perhaps as many as 5 million Australians suffer from a bad cold every year with 100,000 suffering from more severe influenza. But the impact of infectious disease upon our lives is much more than this. Food-borne bacterial infections such as salmonella and campylobacter remain high as does sexually transmitted disease such as Chlamydia and gonococcal disease. Together, these last two bacterial infections produce around 100,000 cases each year.”

“What about mosquito-borne viral infections such as Barmah Forest Virus, Ross River Virus, Q Fever and Dengue? In 2015, there were more than 628 cases of Barmah Forest Virus officially notified as well as 1,713 cases of Dengue, 9,553 of Ross River Virus and 605 cases of Q Fever. So far there exists no specific vaccine or medical treatment for such infections and we simply treat the symptoms.”

Dr Curson made the point that while we are living longer and death rates continued to fall, that we could be doing lot better when it came to our health.

“The fact is that a very large proportion of all Australians are overweight or obese is also highly disturbing. We also need to acknowledge the significance of infectious disease in our lives, particularly childhood infections, food-based infections and sexually transmitted infections. Finally, we should not simply shrug off the threat of mosquito-borne infections as something acquired in the developing world and of little importance in Australia.”

What do you think about the picture painted by Dr Cursan on the future for older Australians? What concerns, if any, do you have about getting older in Australia?

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Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. Michael D'Lecki , BSc (Macq.2003)

    Your health is your wealth and you have to work hard for it.
    Prevention id the key to individual health outcome.
    When i have found at gentle age of 40 that i had fatty liver, i was was also overweight and had back problems.
    I had to change my lifestyle, otherwise i would be today crippled.
    Instead at 67 i am running 100m in 15 sec., jumping 130 cm scissors and throwing discus 38 m.
    Its not only inherited genes, half of your success (and responsibility) is your lifestyle.

    1 REPLY
    • I agree. I have chronic pancreatitus. I was born with it and it manifested itself when i was 63. I have stopped smoking don’t drink and I try and eat the old fashioned healthy way. I was borderline type 2 diabetic and with a change of diet that’s no longer the case. However I now have arthritis and that’s not much fun

  2. I agree. I have chronic pancreatitus. I was born with it and it manifested itself when i was 63. I have stopped smoking don’t drink and I try and eat the old fashioned healthy way. I was borderline type 2 diabetic and with a change of diet that’s no longer the case. However I now have arthritis and that’s not much fun

  3. 63 – slim and fit – a doctor called me ‘the perfect man’ – I don’t play sport – just 3 minutes yoga Salute to the Sun every morning while my breakfast coffee is filtering – and I stand on each leg and do isometric arm strength exercises for 30 seconds each side while the jug is boiling

    result – a recent article about slip and fall accidents said most 65yo could only stand on one leg with eyes closed for 5 seconds – while 25yo’s might manage up to 30 seconds – I did it eyes closed and stopped at 30 seconds when I realised I could hold it indefinitely.

    So there you are – 10 minutes easy at home yoga and isometrics every day – and my doctor called me ‘the perfect man’

  4. Well, Michael and Frank … what bloody marvels you both are ( smug sods too).
    And dear “Mr. BSC (Macq 2003)” … watch out you don’t keel over with a heart attack during your next 15 sec 100 mtr dash as your heart is also 67 yo and may not be quite as fit as you
    think.
    As for the big-noting “perfect man” … he just makes we want to chunder !!!
    I’m 72 yo, in ok health for my age and don’t see any need to boast about it.

  5. I was thinking much the same thing, Guy. All very well for those who have conditions that are treatable by self-help or doctors but what about all those poor sods whose condition is not fixable by any means – all those with inoperable cancer, or like my stepson who at 48 has severe rheumatoid arthritis which no exercise or painkillers will fix. I have severe burning feet syndrome caused by neuropathy. I would exercise or diet every moment of the day if it would relieve it but it doesn’t and neither does any medication available.

    Think of others before you start saying how easy it all is. And Frank, I just hope you don’t develop anything nasty in the next few years which standing on one leg won’t fix.

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