A WOMAN born in Australia in 1900 lived for 59 years on average and gave birth to three or more children. She was more likely than not to die with family or at home.
An Australian woman born in 2017 can expect to live an average 85 years and have two children or less. Any man in her life is more likely than not to die before her, by a few years.
Members of the Baby Boomer generation born between 1946 and 1964 are hitting their later years – those born in 1946 are 71 and generally retired, the babies of the Baby Boomers are 53 and suddenly wondering if they’ve got enough superannuation.
In a 2007 Australian House of Representatives report on older people and the law, the looming Baby Boomer age bulge was described as Australia facing its “inescapable demographic destiny” – more older people than ever before, living longer than before and with fewer children to care for them.
While it’s a cause for celebration that people living in our lucky country are living longer than ever before, on average, with that age comes increased disabilities and chronic conditions.
About one in three Australians over the age of 75 are living with “severe or profound core activity limitations”, and one in three over 85 have dementia.
This inescapable demographic destiny has fuelled the development of retirement villages, nursing homes and different forms of aged care facilities. It has also put a focus on an emerging and serious problem – elder abuse.
In a landmark report released this week for the Federal Government – Elder Abuse: A National Legal Response – Australia has articulated the principle that all who live in this country have rights which do not diminish with age, to live dignified, self-determined lives free from exploitation, violence and abuse. The report was required because the reality, for many older Australians, is not so certain.
Newcastle solicitor Catherine Henry has been a long term advocate for reform within the aged-care sector after shocking examples of elder abuse and neglect, both in institutions and within the community. She deserves credit for strongly criticising the failure of successive governments to more strongly regulate the sector, while relying on courts to provide a deterrent effect.
It is for governments, now, to act on recommendations.