Disability and ageing up together

Disability and ageing seem to go together-and both are set to climb significantly in the next six years and beyond, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report, Disability and Ageing: Australian Population Patterns and Implications, was commissioned by the National Disability Administrators to provide answers on the likely impact of population ageing on disability prevalence, support services, and the availability of 'informal' assistance by carers, typically relatives and family.

According to Ms Ros Madden, Head of the Disability Services Unit at the AIHW, 'The picture is complex because there is nothing homogenous about people with a disability'.

'But the short answer is that population ageing has been accompanied by rises in the number of people with a disability. We predict that the number of people with severe or profound disability will rise by 11.6% in the next six years.'

The Disability and Ageing report describes how Australia's ageing population is the inevitable result of longer lives and low fertility over a long period.

The population age profile is also being affected by the 'bulge' of the post-World War II baby-boom generation. This group is currently in their forties and fifties, and will be reaching retirement age in 10 to 20 years time.

The number of people with a severe or profound disability more than doubled between 1981 and 1998, increasing from 452,900 to 954,900. By 2006 the number is expected to be over 1.3 million. The greatest percentage increase will be among people aged 45 to 64 years.

'Predicting future demand for services is difficult-for example the picture is complicated by the fact that there are also large numbers of people in older age groups who have had their disability since early in life', Ms Madden said.

'In 1998 there were 30,200 people with a severe or profound disability aged 45 to 64 years and 13,000 aged 65 or over who had acquired their disability in childhood.'

'There is a comprehensive array of disability and aged care services in Australia. The ageing of the population with a disability means that some of the traditional barriers between "disability services" and "aged care services" need to be broken down, with more flexibility in the way services are provided'.

'Support for carers of people with a disability will also be very important in coming years. Carers, who are mostly relatives, have made possible the recent shift from institutional living to community living. Between 1993 and 1998 there was an increase of over a quarter of a million people aged 5-64 years with severe or profound disability living in the community with carers.

'But the carers themselves are ageing. And the ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers shows that many are at risk of burnout and financial difficulties, and will need more support in carrying out their caring roles.'

15 December 2000


Further information: Ros Madden, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1189 (bh) or 0409 767 266 (mobile).
Dr Xingyan Wen, AIHW, 02 6244 1177
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032.