By Jake Beleski

jake.beleski@age.co.nz

A rapidly ageing population in Wairarapa may eventually lead to stretched resources in the region.

Wairarapa is set to become one of the first regions in the country with more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 15.

National population projections compiled by Statistics New Zealand show all regions across the country will experience an increase in population aged over 65 years between 2013 and 2043.

However, the percentage of the population aged 65 and over in Wairarapa is projected to increase from 18.3 per cent (2013), to 32 per cent in 2043.

Nationally, the increase will be from 14 per cent (2013), to 23 per cent (2043).

During the same period, the percentage of the Wairarapa population aged under 15 years will drop from 19.5 per cent to 16.7 per cent.

The increase in people aged 65 and over is set to put extra strain on certain areas, including health and medical resources, and the workforce in general.

But Massey University professor of social science research, Dr Christine Stephens, said an ageing population should be embraced, not feared.

“In general, the ageing population is a demographic shift, but not a worry.

“As the world population grows and people live for longer, it is inevitable and probably helpful that people have fewer children.”

Adjusting attitudes towards older people and understanding their beneficial contributions to society, rather than seeing them as dependant, was a vital part of the process.

Dr Stephens said she was aware of increasing concerns as an ageing population had become a worldwide reality, but pointed out there were other factors that need to be considered.

“People have talked about a ‘silver tsunami’ or a tidal wave of older people about to overtake our population with their high healthcare needs and lack of contribution for over 20 years now.

“As it turns out, this is not such a major concern . . . in fact, demographic research has shown that the improvements in longevity also reflect improvements in health so not all old people have high healthcare needs and the ratio of dependence has fallen, rather than increased, in recent years.”

Older members of society turn out to be very productive and make major contributions to society in terms of expertise, paid work, and unpaid work, she said.

“For example, in New Zealand one in five people over 65 are continuing to work and this is predicted to rise to one in three by 2031, while New Zealand is second among OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries for employment rates for older workers.”

The more important issue should be how society recognises and supports the contribution of older citizens, she said.

The Wairarapa District Health Board (DHB) released a healthy ageing strategy in December last year, addressing the health and wellbeing of older people for the next 10 years.

Priorities included acute and restorative care, living well with long-term conditions, and support for people with high and complex needs.

Wairarapa DHB communications manager, Anna Cardno, said although the population is growing, so too are the numbers of fit, healthy and independent older people.

“Most older people are active and independent well into their later years.
“We know that 15 per cent of our population over 65 years are receiving DHB funded support, either at home or in residential care . . . people are entering care later in life and are more frail when they do.”

Wairarapa DHB has initiated work streams to consider forward planning with regard to the health of older people in the community, she said.

“The DHB continually monitors effectiveness of services for older people and seeks improvements which may be made in the systems that support our older people and their families and whanau.

“Our systems and services must aim to keep people in good health for longer, recognising that older people have different needs at different times.”