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Policy and Practice
Longer lives in Ireland not matched by better health
Statistical review reveals rise in years a person lives with ill heath in Ireland

CARDI, the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland, recently published a statistical comparison on aspects of the lives of older people in Northern Ireland (NI) and the Republic of Ireland (RoI). The report, Illustrating Ageing in Ireland North and South, finds that people are living longer in Ireland but this longevity is not matched by better health.

While both parts of Ireland are relatively young with 11% and 14% of the population aged 65 and over in the south and north respectively (compared with an EU average of 16.9%), the number of older people in Ireland has grown substantially in recent decades. With one million people aged 60 and above now living on the island of Ireland the significance of this increased longevity cannot be underestimated. By 2041 the percentage of people aged 60 and older will rise to 29% of the total population in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The greatest growth will be in the number of people aged over 85. This group will increase almost fivefold, from 74,000 to 356,000 with the number of centenarians predicted to top 8,500 by 2041.

The analysis of statistics on older people in Ireland - north and south - shows that since the 1920s, the number of years a man can expect to live has risen by about 20 while women have extended their average life spans by about 24-25 years. However, although Ireland has made significant gains in increasing the length of people’s lives, CARDI’s report finds that it has not managed to extend their healthy life spans to the same extent. In the Republic of Ireland, the number of years a man can expect to live in poor health has risen from 9.5 in 1999 to 14.7 in 2007 and the average woman’s likely period in poor health has risen from 11.3 years to 16.8 years. Northern Ireland has shown a slight improvement in healthy life but lags behind the rest of the United Kingdom in the extent of ill health and disability.

The report also reveals that over the last decade there has been a large increase in the number of older people in employment in Ireland, north and south. In the decade before the recession RoI employment for older workers increased by 53,000 (+44.8%) while in Northern Ireland it expanded by 35,000 (+ 44.9%). Since the economic downturn the report shows that older workers in Northern Ireland have been more successful so far in weathering the recession than their counterparts in the Republic of Ireland. For example the number of people over the age of 60 still in work north of the border continued to rise through the first year of the downturn but the number in the Republic fell by 7,000. The report also considers aspects of older people’s lives including the number of older people who are carers, numbers engaged in voluntary work and their access and use of transport and communications.

Illustrating Ageing in Ireland North and South emphasises the need for research to ensure both parts of Ireland can plan properly for the radical changes that the ageing population will bring. CARDI’s role in that process is to bring researchers, policy-makers and older people themselves together to help research play its part in improving the lives of older people. The full report is available at: http://www.cardi.ie/publications/illustratingageinginirelandnorthsouthkeyfactsandfigures

CARDI is a not for profit organisation developed by leaders from the ageing research community in Ireland, established to provide a mechanism for greater collaboration among age researchers, for wider dissemination of ageing research information and to advance a research agenda relevant to the needs of older people across the island of Ireland (www.cardi.ie).

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