Government is about to enter into a consultation period to determine “Bermuda’s vision for ageing well”, and develop a strategy to address the needs of seniors, who now make up more than 60 percent of the island’s population.
Addressing Age Concern members at their Annual General Meeting on Monday, Health Minister Kim Wilson said the Government is looking to hear input from seniors, to build an overall vision for healthcare going forward.
Speaking before hundreds of seniors at the Evangelical Church Hall, the Minister said the strategy on ‘Ageing Well in Bermuda’, is one of ten top ten goals in the Bermuda Health Reform Strategy 2014 – 2019, which outlines priorities to reduce costs, improve access and improve quality healthcare standards.
Based on the input from the 8,500 people who make up Bermuda’s current population of seniors, the aim is to develop a “visionary plan” designed for an ageing population in a small community.
On that note she said: “None of us is getting any younger! The current data, she said, forms the very basis on why “we need to plan” for the impact is imperative.
“By 2030, it is projected that people over the age of 65 will increase from 11 percent to 22 percent of the population and the median age is projected to increase from 37 to 43 years. At the same time, though, this demographic shift can have significant impacts on our economic and social systems, particularly in the areas of health, social services and pensions.”
The “central point” she said, is “how we prepare as a country for this demographic shift” to “greatly influence our future well-being and socio-economic success”.
“Increased life expectancy, decreased birth rates and the ageing of the ‘baby boom’ generation are key factors leading to our ageing population.” With these changes, she said: “Trends are emerging which bring both challenges and opportunities.
That, coupled with changing family structures, increased divorce, childlessness and “smaller families which decrease the amount of family care and support available for older adults”, only adds to the challenges that lie ahead.
Of all the people on financial assistance, 60 percent of them are seniors or disabled, which compounds “another strain on Bermuda’s healthcare system”. “While the number of older people is ‘booming’, there are fewer young people, and those young people are getting sick with preventable diseases at an earlier age.
“Why is this important? Because the health of the overall population impacts our ability to work, to live well and to care for others. If the population is unhealthy, it reduces the number of people who can contribute to the economy and care for those who are dependent through age or illness. And that has a significant economic and social impacts.
“The number of persons with disabilities is growing, and ill health is increasingly due to chronic diseases. This has a direct impact on the amount and type of healthcare and support required in later years.” To “put that in terms that all of us can appreciate”, she said: “The healthier we stay as a population, the less we need to pay for healthcare, and the less we pay for healthcare, the lower our healthcare premiums will be.”
But “shocking statistics” in the 2014 STEPS Health Survey of Adults Bermuda, showed “three out of every four adults are overweight or obese”, with “only 18 percent of adults” who consume five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day. “One in three have high blood pressure and overall 12 percent have diabetes, with over 20 percent of older persons having diabetes.”
Said the Minister: “A concerted effort must be made to address preventable risk factors such as overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, poor diet, high blood sugar and high blood pressure. My Ministry aims to halt the rise in obesity and diabetes, and this will be a major initiative this year. It is going to take an all-of-society approach to tackle the obesity epidemic, including the private and public sectors, supermarkets, restaurants, educators and policy makers. All of us are needed to address this very health problem.”
And sustaining the pension scheme also presents major challenges, as “the costs of healthcare will be magnified by the growing number of older persons”. “Our present circumstances and future population changes require us to determine what we want Bermuda to be like for an ageing population and what needs to be done to achieve it,” said Ms Wilson.
More older adults remaining in the workforce “means a greater reliance on post retirement income and savings”, which “impacts the sustainability of these funds”. As a community, she said it will take a range of sectors “to address this pivotal matter affecting older adults”.
The proposed new ageing plan to be unveiled shortly, will be “a visionary document” and “a starting point to then drill down and create solutions”, to help Bermuda to become ‘ageing-friendly’ and for seniors “to be considered when any policies are developed”.
“This is not just a health issue or a serious issue. It is a national issue that impacts all of us across our lifespan, and it requires a community-wide approach to make sure we consider ageing in all policies across public and private sectors. And I would say that we have to focus not just on ageing but rather on ageing well,” she said.
“Bermuda deserves to age well, and many of you in this room have a lot to teach us about how to achieve this.”