With the number of people living to 100 and beyond predicted to increase sixfold over the next 40 years it’s time to start thinking about the sort of services, communities and environments that will support the oldest of the old, an expert on geriatrics and brain ageing says.
Worldwide, there were 451,000 centenarians in 2015 and that number is expected to hit 3.676 million by 2050, according to the Pew Research Centre.
Figures from the ABS show there were almost 4,000 centenarians in Australia in 2017.
Hurtling towards a super-aged society
We are hurtling towards a super-aged society and, according to Professor Henry Brodaty of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHEBA) at UNSW, challenges lie ahead.
Professor Brodaty says when we’re talking about the aged, there are the “young old” (aged about 65-80), the “old old” (80-95) and then the near-centenarians, centenarians and supercentenarians (those who make it to 110 and beyond).
“What people don’t always appreciate is that amongst the aged there is an ageing of the aged, so it’s the very old that are actually growing much faster,” he says.
But with the right support and the design of aged-friendly communities, there is no reason for quality of life to deteriorate with longevity, he says, or for older people to continue to lead meaningful and satisfying lives.
Living well to 100
Prof Brodaty will talk about factors associated with living well long into life at the Living to 100 conference in Sydney next month.
He told Community Care Review that research into longevity has increased what we know about the importance of good diet, physical exercise and social and mental engagement in living to an old age, as well as dispelling the myth that everyone who achieves longevity will lose their mental faculties and end up in a long-term care facility.
“The latest research shows us that 50 per cent of people who live to 100 do not have dementia, are living in the community and are fairly satisfied with their life,” he says.
“But you don’t want to be 100 and have no friends and have no enjoyment . People want to have some independence and autonomy about how they run their life.”
Prof Brodaty says our ability to care for and enable the growing army of super-aged to lead meaningful lives will depend on the demands on families, addressing the shortage of aged care workers and changing the attitudes of “a youth-orientated society that renders older people invisible”.
More home support will be needed to enable people to age at home, he says.
“It’s a big issue, we already have a shortage of the aged care workforce, the workforce itself is ageing, so when the baby boomers retire there’s going to be even greater shortages.
“They’re increasing the number of home care packages but the waiting list is still large, and the waiting list for level four is still very large, so we’ve got challenges ahead.”
The Living to 100 Conference (September 7-8) hosted by CHEBA, will feature a lineup of local and international speakers who will discuss the latest research on exceptionally long-lived individuals, including centenarians and supercentenarians.