Belfast Telegraph

Growth in Northern Ireland's older population putting pressure on health and social services

Proportion of elderly people has risen by 1.5% to 37,700.
Proportion of elderly people has risen by 1.5% to 37,700.

By Christopher Leebody

The population of Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly older, according to new figures released yesterday which revealed an increase in those aged over 85.

The report by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) shows that between mid-2017 and June 2018 the proportion of elderly people in the population aged over 85 has risen by 1.5% to 37,700.

The figures also show a consistent trend of growth in this demographic, with the report showing that in the decade before 2018, the 85-and-over age group grew by 30.4%.

The increase is attributed to an improving standard in healthcare, leading to higher survival rates, alongside a downward trend in births.

While older people celebrate the changing demographics, advocates for them have warned that an increasingly elderly population presents some significant societal challenges and pressure on public services.

Eamon Quinn, director of the charity Engage with Age, welcomed the fact people were living longer, but stressed the need to adequately accommodate the increased number of elderly people in society.

He said: "The standard of healthcare is improving, diets are improving. Standards of living in comparison to decades ago are improving.

"Society has progressed and as a result we are living longer.

"The advances in health and social care need to be matched in the use of the public purse in providing for them."

Despite the ageing population, Mr Quinn still finds that public services are not tailored to deal with the challenges of everyday life as an elderly person in Northern Ireland.

He said: "Society needs to be able to fulfil the needs that older people have in order to carry on living life to their full potential. What older people tell us on a recurring basis is that society seems to be designed for younger people.

"If you consider things like operating a mobile phone, it has become so much more complicated these days.

"Going to a shop to buy something, being able to get into town and meet up with your friends - these are all challenges that seem to be particularly acute for older people.

"There are some simple barriers: difficulty with unevenness in pavements, difficulties accessing transport. These are things that need to be borne in mind.

"It feels like people in society only become aware of those problems when you become an older person yourself."

With the health and social care system set to feel the biggest brunt of these long-term changes in demographics, Mr Quinn emphasised that older people still struggle with the basics "of getting a health appointment by phoning through to an automated service".

"All of these hurdles you need to get over before you even get to receiving care and obviously the cost of care," he said.

"It appears sometimes that the health service is disjointed in how it deals with older people.

"Perception of older people is a big issue. These people are dynamic, they have incredible life experience to pass on and give. The value of the childcare alone that is provided by older people in Northern Ireland is estimated to be in the region of millions."

Responding to the figures, Pascal McKeown, director of Age NI, said: "Our ageing population presents opportunities as well as challenges for employers and the economy, for housing as well as for our welfare, health and social care systems.

"We must give serious consideration to what our changing population means for us as individuals, for our families, and for our society."

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