Older Australians 'active contributors to family and community' says national report

Older people over 65 are active contributors to family and community life, and not the 'burden on the community' some people imagine them to be, says a new report, Older Australia at a glance, released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Ann Peut, Head of the Institute's Ageing and Aged Care Unit, said the report showed that older people in Australia are a diverse group from an array of backgrounds who contribute in many ways to the social and economic wellbeing of Australia.

'For a start, 24% of men and 13% of women aged 65-69 years participate in the workforce', Ms Peut said.

'Despite having relatively low average levels of income, 24% of all older Australians were providing direct or indirect financial support for adult children or relatives outside their household.

'And almost half of all people aged 65-74 years provide unpaid assistance to someone outside their household, one-third provide volunteer services, and 29% are actively involved in a community organisation,' she said.

In addition, older Australians aged 65-74 make up 13% of primary carers who assist people with disability.

The report also found that, although disability levels and use of health care services do rise with age, the overwhelming majority of older people live in private dwellings in the community, with only 6% living in facilities such as aged care homes and hospitals.

Even among those aged 85 years and over, the great majority (74%) live in private dwellings.

'The range of diversity in activities and circumstances among older Australians is not surprising given that this particular segment of the population covers an age range of almost 40 years,' Ms Peut said.

At the younger end of the spectrum, the baby boomer post-World War II population bulge is moving through mature age into early older age, bringing not just increased numbers, but also new issues, different life experiences and differences in expectations compared with the over-85s, who grew up during the Depression.

At the older end of the spectrum increased longevity is resulting in marked growth in the numbers of people over the age of 85, and associated increases in the prevalence of many health conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.

'We hope that our report paints a meaningful picture of older Australia which reflects this complexity and diversity, and helps improve our understanding of this population as a whole as well as the many possible situations within it,' Ms Peut said.

22 November 2007

Further information: Ms Ann Peut, AIHW mobile 0419 296 053.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.