Friday 28 July 2017

We need a Fair Deal for elderly at home - but it won't be cheap

More people are staying active for longer, and demographic trends suggest that Ireland will experience a serious ageing of the population in the coming decades
More people are staying active for longer, and demographic trends suggest that Ireland will experience a serious ageing of the population in the coming decades

Eamon O'Shea

The vast majority of older people in Ireland are active, healthy and live independently in their own homes. However, approximately one-fifth of older people living at home have one or more disabilities and need the help and support of others at various times and to varying degrees. A further 5pc of the older adult population live in long-stay residential care.

While Ireland currently has a relatively young population in comparison to other European countries, demographic trends suggest that the country will experience serious ageing of the population in the coming decades. Life expectancy for men and women has increased significantly in Ireland in recent decades. A male aged 65 years in Ireland can expect to live, on average, for another 18 years, while a female of the same age can expect to live for an additional 21 years. These gains are a cause for celebration and reflect the economic and health benefits of living in Ireland now in comparison to previous periods of our history.

Recent controversies have, however, highlighted serious imbalances in the care of dependent older people in Ireland. Although public policy purports to favour community-based care, the opposite is the case. The vast majority of government spending goes on supporting older people in residential care through the Fair Deal scheme. Close to €1bn was spent on the scheme in 2016, almost three times more than was spent on community-based care for older people. While there are some problems with Fair Deal, most people agree that it is an improvement on previous arrangements and it does allow people to access a very expensive resource on a statutory basis, albeit with some cost-sharing.

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