Problem affecting one in two older Aussies 

Woman taking a pill

In news that could turn Australia’s boomers into ‘doomers’, a new report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicates that more than half of the country’s baby boomers (those aged 55 to 74) have long-term health problems.

Analysing data collected in last year’s census, the ABS report reveals that despite representing only 21.5 per cent of the Australian population, boomers accounted for more than one-third (34.2 per cent) of those who had at least one long-term health condition.

More than half (50.4 per cent) of Australia’s 55- to 75-year-olds are living with long-term health conditions, a figure that, unsurprisingly, increases with age.

Read: Australians are living longer, but with more chronic disease

The breakdown of those with long-term health problems was: 11.7 per cent aged 0 to 14, 29.1 per cent aged 15 to 64, 61.4 per cent aged 65 to 84 and 73.1 per cent aged 85 and older. The median age was 55 years, compared to the overall Australian median age of 38 years.

The findings might be unsurprising, but the 2021 census was in fact the first to include a question about long-term health. The ABS and Department of Health hope that its inclusion will potentially lead to breakthrough health discoveries, as census data has done in the past. The census was critical in discovering the link between rubella measles and congenital problems with unborn children, the ABS report said.

Interestingly, females are more likely than males to be affected by a long-term health condition. Of those with a long-term problems, 54.1 per cent were female and 45.9 per cent male.

Read: Link between your neighbourhood and your health

The census, of course, provides the raw data without speculation on the possible causes of findings such as this, but the data opens up the possibility of academic research into contributing factors.

One of those could simply be age, as the median age of females in the census was 37, compared to 35 for males, but mental health provides a significant discrepancy in the numbers.

The census figures show that 10.6 per cent of females have a long-term mental health condition, compared to 7 per cent of males. Arthritis is also more of an issue for females (10.6 per cent) compared to males (6.3 per cent).

Read: Fears over long-term effects of COVID

On the other hand, males are more likely to suffer from long-term heart problems (4.8 per cent, females 3.1 per cent) and diabetes (5.2 per cent, females 4.2 per cent).

One thing to remember with these results is that they are based on a single question and rely on self-reporting. The ABS makes that very point in its report, with the inclusion of the following statement: “The use of a single question in the census to collect information on the complex and sensitive topic of long-term health conditions likely results in some underestimation of the number and proportion of people with long-term health conditions.”

Notwithstanding those limitations, the figures provide a good starting point for the Department of Health and others looking to tackle the long-term health issues of Australians as the country’s population continues to age.

Do you have any long-term health issues? Did you report them in last year’s census? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Andrew Gigacz

Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

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  1. At 72 both myself, my wife and pretty much all our friends of a similar age have at least one long term health issue. The simple fact is that humans wear out although genes and lifestyle can affect the rate of decline you can not reverse it.

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