Maturing assets - appreciating an ageing Australia
Minister for Ageing, Julie Bishop, addresses the 37th Annual conference of the Australian Association for Gerontology in Melbourne.
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19 November 2004
Maturing assets - appreciating an ageing Australia
Maturing assets - appreciating an ageing Australia
Address to the 37th annual conference of the
Australian Association for Gerontology,
Hilton on the Park, Melbourne
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Could I acknowledge Professor Broe, Professor Hay and all the delegates here today.
How well this theme, ‘Maturing assets - appreciating an ageing Australia’, captures the essence of the population ageing debate.
Older Australians are an asset. They have helped shape modern Australia. They still make significant contributions to our society years after giving up full-time work. Their contributions should be valued, their roles acknowledged, their lives accorded respect. And they should be supported and encouraged to live life to the full, make the most of their older years so that as people age they know that the opportunities are there for them to live rich and fulfilling lives.
A recent Yale study indicated that our negative thoughts about ageing that we pick up from society as we grow up can affect longevity. In other words, older people with more positive self-perceptions live longer, according to the study, than those with negative perceptions, after taking into account other factors that affect increased longevity such as gender and socio-economic status and overall health. Now I do not think it is just a matter of thinking good things and you won’t age. But I certainly wouldn’t underestimate the effects and benefits of having positive self-perceptions about ageing.
I believe that the ageing of the population is one of the most significant issues that our country will face over the coming decades: the impact on our national economy, the composition of families, the size of our workforce. And this conference agenda touches on so many more: matters of healthy ageing, the importance of physical activity, rural health issues, problems of sensory loss, and questions of volunteering, accommodation, education, and care in its many forms.
Architects in the industry are particularly interested in issues of building design and community planning as our towns and cities respond to the changing needs and expectations of increasingly large older populations.
These seemingly disparate things remind us of the complexities that we have to address when we look at population ageing and demographic change.
It is essential that we take a broad view when we prepare for the future. We need to weave all the threads together if we are to create a coherent plan of action.
The strategic approachA strategic approach has been the government’s course since taking office in 1996, and it is the proven path we will follow over the next three years.
We have adopted a strategic, comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to respond to the challenges that demographic change and an ageing Australia present.
The results have been a series of landmarks in ageing policy across a broad range of government programs and services:
- from promoting health throughout life
- to working with business in valuing and retaining the mature-age workforce
- to caring for those who are unable to support themselves.
We have simplified and reformed superannuation to stimulate private savings for retirement.
We have enhanced Medicare to provide more preventive care for older Australians to support those with chronic illnesses.
We have introduced a system of accreditation for residential aged care, we have reviewed and reformed both community and residential care services.
The central focus of this strategic approach was the creation of the portfolio of Ageing, one of the first in the world, and funding for a National Strategy for an Ageing Australia, first in the 2000-01 Budget. We committed to it again in the 2004-05 Budget.
We have seen the development of a series of seminal documents on population ageing:
- like the National Strategy for an Ageing Australia framework document that identified five areas for whole-of-government action;
- the Treasurer’s Intergenerational Report which, for the first time, surveyed the fiscal impact of an ageing Australia not just for the next budget cycle, or the next election cycle, but 10, 20, 30, 40 years hence; and
- the document Australia’s Demographic Challenges that the Treasurer released earlier this year.
Evidence-based ageing research has been an integral part of our approach to date, and it will continue to be so.
Our strategic objectives should be complemented by the six themes which the National Symposium on Ageing Research endorsed last year for the Framework for an Australian Ageing Research Agenda.
And much work has already been done in these fields:
- maintaining economic growth as the workforce ages;
- achieving adequate, sustainable retirement incomes;
- developing positive images of ageing and supporting social participation;
- developing age-friendly infrastructure and built environments;
- achieving healthy ageing; and
- providing accessible, quality health and aged care.
Breadth of vision, as in policy, and breadth of vision in research - that will continue to be critical.
Last year, at your conference in Hobart, I had just been appointed the Minister and I talked about building the profile and momentum of ageing research, especially:
- the need for greater networking and collaboration;
- the need to build bigger research platforms; and
- the need for a champion to drive the research agenda, as a public face or an identity to promote your work.
Prevention and healthy ageingPromoting healthy ageing and health throughout life I think is a key strategic and research objective and it is one I am particularly keen to focus upon. There are social as well as economic consequences, of course.
Australia spends around $60 billion each year on health delivery. Total health spending as a proportion of GDP is around 10 per cent and rising.
Of course, economically responsible governments should do what they can to contain the growth in health costs.
Chronic ailments account for around 80 per cent of the total outlays on illness, injuries and mental health problems. And many of these conditions are more prevalent in later years. For example, by the time they turn 65, half of all Australian women and a third of men will suffer from some form of arthritis. The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that one woman in 10 aged between 65 and 74 suffers from osteoporosis.
And the conditions we just naturally associate with ageing - heart disease and diabetes, musculo-skeletal conditions, respiratory conditions - many of these problems could be prevented, or at least ameliorated, if people could be induced to take better care of their health when they are younger and as they age; by watching their diet, by not smoking, not drinking to excess (I hope last night’s dinner was an example of that), by taking exercise and keeping fit.
I read recently that the Royal College of GPs is encouraging doctors to prescribe exercise instead of some medications in coping with certain diseases, as recent research has revealed that inactivity is the second biggest cause of certain diseases after smoking.
And of course, the personal benefits ought to be obvious - not only a healthier youth, but a longer and healthier life, an old age with fewer pains, less sickness, more vigour, and the opportunity to remain independent for longer.
There is emerging research on the benefits of work for older people - the longer you work, the longer you live - whether paid or voluntary. There is certainly evidence that employment and good health in older people go together. They seem to reinforce one another.
The community should look to reap the benefits of older people who have retained their dynamism and engagement; and then I’m sure that Treasury will find that health and ageing costs are more modest.
The government recognises that research will play a big part in outcomes of that kind. The Ageing Well Research Network, convened by Professor Hal Kendig - I note he is here this morning - has been awarded Australian Research Council funding of $2.5 million over the next five years to expand the inter-disciplinary scope of ageing research and to develop collaborations.
This network offers great opportunities across a range of disciplines because it aims to increase the scale and quality of research that addresses national priorities, and to enhance research capacities, especially for emerging researchers.
Inter-disciplinary research will also receive a boost from the decision by the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council to fund jointly research in the priority area of ‘Ageing Well, Ageing Productively’. Now this is the first time the two bodies have collaborated to fund research in ageing.
We saw the strong interest in the ‘Ageing Well, Ageing Productively’ research program when a recent ARC-NHMRC stakeholder consultation drew more than 30 submissions.
DementiaOne area where we can expect to see a greater concentration of research in coming years is in the field of dementia. It is also an area where research is beginning to make inroads and I wanted to say a little about the government’s approach.
It is one of the biggest health issues we face. It already affects around 176,000 Australians - mostly over the age of 65 - and its incidence is expected to grow as the proportion of older people in our population grows.
Dementia is already the focus of much effort from the Australian Government, and we can expect that to increase when, as we indicated during the recent election, we hope to ensure that dementia gains recognition as a National Health Priority.
At the moment, programs that support people with dementia and their carers are funded through the Department of Health and Ageing at a cost of some $2.6 billion annually. In this financial year, that included:
- almost $2.3 billion for residential aged care, since it is one of the main drivers of people entering residential aged care; and
- over $158 million for Home and Community Care Services for people living with dementia.
From 2006, people with dementia living in aged care homes will also benefit from special supplements that will be introduced to support high-quality care. That initiative was part of the government’s response to the Hogan Review, the $2.2 billion response announced in the last Budget.
The government’s pre-election commitment of $200 million over four years to support work on dementia is another major initiative that has been very well received. As well as providing direct support for people with dementia in their own homes and workforce training for carers, it will also enhance research, primary care and early intervention. There are benefits for the social costs and emotional costs to individuals affected and their families, their carers and the people that care for them in hospitals.
In research, the NHMRC recognises dementia as a priority area and allocated nearly $6.5 million in 2004 and further funding in 2005 and beyond. The council has also made a grant of $4.6 million over five years to Professors Sachdev, Brodaty and Andrews at the University of New South Wales to research early detection and prevention of dementia and depression in older people.
The next critical stage in meeting the challenges dementia poses will be achieved through national collaboration on what is such an important health and ageing issue. The government is very keen to move quickly to make dementia a National Health Priority, with the assistance of State and Territory governments. This will achieve a sharper policy focus on dementia. Public awareness of the condition will be increased. It should result in more concentration on research in this area.
Research and collaborationThe support that the Australian Government gives in dementia studies and other fields of inquiry shows just how strongly we are committed to backing research across the ageing agenda.
If you look in your dictionary, to "collaborate" can also mean "engaging with the enemy" so I guess we mean it in another context, but I want to emphasise the collaborative efforts between government and researchers, in gerontology as in other fields. It is no less important than collaboration between researchers - one of three areas, along with disseminating evidence-based research findings and translating that research into policy and practice - that is promoted by the Australian Government through the Building Ageing Research Capacity Project - BARC.
This project is a joint initiative of the government’s Office for an Ageing Australia and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and it has achieved much in the past 12 months, particularly in the area of collaboration. I am glad to say that the project has involved the government working more closely with this association – and I pay tribute to you as a key organisation developing a quality, evidence-based research capacity in this country.
Developing this closer relationship is an exciting step for us.
I particularly want to welcome Janet Angel to our evolving partnership. With government backing, she has recently been appointed as the association’s Executive Officer, charged with building its role in promoting research.
I am also pleased that my portfolio is sponsoring the Emerging Researchers in Ageing Conference that is going to be held in Brisbane on 2 December. The Brisbane conference provides an excellent opportunity for the next generation of researchers to showcase their work, meet like minds and explore potential areas for collaboration.
As we are eager to fund original research and foster collaboration, so too is the government intent on disseminating data and the findings – passing on the knowledge is an essential part of research.
Now it is my very pleasant duty this morning to launch a report which will provide useful information to many in ageing research.
The government has funded the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Review of Australian Longitudinal Studies on Ageing. The review grew out of a recommendation in the report Promoting Healthy Ageing in Australia, which had been prepared by a working group of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council.
It focused on the scope and methodology of some 20 studies to see whether a broader range of analysis would arise from stronger collaboration between researchers and more extensive dissemination of their findings.
Anyone who wants to better understand the potential of Australian longitudinal and cohort data and its comparability with overseas collections should take the time to consult the report of that review, Longitudinal Studies of Ageing: Implications for Future Studies. I have to confess, it was not the lightest reading I could have undertaken on the flight from Canberra to Melbourne last night. Nevertheless I commend it to you, and it gives me great pleasure to launch this report. Copies will be made available from the Office of an Ageing Australia.
Another dissemination medium which the government supports is the Ageing Research Online website. The site has grown in the last year, with news of significant coming events to support networking and collaboration between researchers, additional entries to the online Ageing Research Directory, and a newsletter covering current issues and showcasing the work of researchers and research centres.
The BARC project’s third objective, translating evidence into policy and practice, is in many ways the most challenging, and the most important. It is the path to better outcomes. The Department of Health and Ageing supports a range of activities to help translate research evidence into action
We fund the Australasian Cochrane Centre to coordinate the regional activities of the Cochrane Collaboration, which provides systematic reviews of health care interventions and promotes the search for evidence in the form of clinical trials and other interventions.
The department also established the National Institute of Clinical Studies (NICS) to improve the quality and delivery of clinical practice. It works though partnerships to close the gaps between evidence and clinical practice.
In the last Budget, the 2004-05 Budget, we set aside $22.7 million over four years to continue support for such initiatives.
Collaboration comes into play when it comes to turning research findings into action. It is essential that stakeholders and consumers be engaged effectively to increase the relevance of research for decision-makers and individuals in the public and private sectors.
The government is supporting this association’s multidisciplinary charter to advance ageing research across the social and economic spectrum, and to develop ties between the AAG and significant stakeholders involved with ageing research and policy development.
I think it is vital that research findings inform decisions taken by governments, as well as businesses and individuals in the community, in response to population ageing. Organisations at every tier of government need access to the best evidence if they are to make the best decisions.
The AAG’s membership exemplifies the wide range of disciplines with insights to offer. It is important that this diversity be maintained and expanded to ensure multidisciplinary perspectives are available on all issues to do with ageing.
I note that this conference program is much broader than last year’s agenda. It is showcasing research across many themes. There will be enormous benefits when researchers in all of the thematic areas see their full potential to contribute to the development of research evidence on ageing. As the Australian population ages, the growing proportion and number of Australia’s population will be in the older age groups. It a matter for all of us and it is a matter that we have to take action upon now.
In concluding, the government has a vision to address demographic change and the challenges it poses to Australia.
We have long recognised that we will not achieve the best results for Australians, offering people security and a high quality of life, unless we take a comprehensive approach. That offers our best chance of successfully harvesting the challenges and opportunities our demographic changes will present.
Research, and developing a strong evidence base, are essential parts of our broader vision for dealing with demographic change.
I am proud of what has been done to build ageing research capacity over the last two years, through the combined efforts of the ageing research community and the Australian Government.
It is critical for present and future generations that we conduct the most relevant research, that we draw the right conclusions from it, and that we use it to make the kinds of sound decisions, wise decisions, that will secure our nation’s future.
Thank you for inviting me today and I wish you well for the balance of the conference. I am afraid I will have to leave you and head back to Perth but I wish you the best.