Get set for the “super-centenarians”

Research from the Department of Health and Ageing predicts a new demographic phenomenon over the next forty years.

The number of Australians over the age of 100 is expected to surge to 78,000 by 2055.

At the moment there are close to three thousand centenarians in Australia but with the fourth highest life expectancy in the world, the country’s old-old population is set to increase dramatically.

As part of that process the Department of Health and Ageing is predicting a new demographic phenomenon with a major shift in the number of people aged over 110 – or “super-centenarians”.

The 2006 Census found 96 people over the age of 110 and that number is only set to grow.

The Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot welcomed the findings as “exciting news”, saying that the ageing baby boomers were set to re-invent retirement.

“Only the Japanese, Swiss and Icelanders are living longer than Australians,” she said.

“People used to joke that 45 was the ‘new’ 30. But today with record numbers of Australians reaching 100, 100 is now becoming the new 75.”

But these figures are just the “tip of the iceberg” according to University of Adelaide demographer, Professor Graeme Hugo.

“From the point of view of the provision of specialised services, the real concern is that there is a much higher proportion of people getting through to their 80s and 90s,” he said.

“People aren’t getting through to those ages in perfect physical condition. To some extent we are rescuing people from death who would previously not have lived so long.

“It is a wonderful thing for the people involved but at the same time, it is increasing the pressure on health services.”

On a positive note Professor Hugo says it is an issue that is broadly acknowledged.

“There is a pretty high degree of alertness in government, the private sector and society in general but there is always more that could be done.”

In the United States, there are currently 95,000 people aged 100 and over and that number is predicted to reach 1.15 million by the middle of the century.

An article in the News & Observer warned that this trend could significantly increase the country’s health budget.

“If we don’t do a better job, this really large group of people who reach advanced old age will be a burden on our health-care system,” Dr Jack Guralnik, an epidemiologist and gerontologist at the National Institute on Aging in Maryland told the North Carolina newspaper.

Mrs Elliot attributed the booming life expectancy here to medical advances and active lifestyles.

“An ageing population creates so many opportunities; we can learn so much from the wisdom, knowledge and experience of older Australians.”

At the moment there are close to three million Australians aged 65 and over.

The department estimates that by 2047, this number will almost triple to 7.2 million or a quarter of the population.

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