Much like elsewhere in the Western world, the population in New Zealand is aging; the number of people over 65 has doubled since 1980, and is expected to double once again by 2036. This increase in the aging population is largely the result of a rising life expectancy, as it is estimated that the average individual in New Zealand now lives up to 81.16 years of age – an increase from 78.64 years since 2000.
It is therefore important, now more than ever before, to promote strategies that improve quality of life among the aging. Creating policies that promote health across the life-span can enhance the physical, social, and functional mobility of the aging, and could have far-reaching positive impact.
One such strategy, as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is Aging in Place, which refers to “the ability to live in one’s own home or community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.” Research shows that aging in place is linked to health and emotional benefits, and the opportunity for families, governments, and health systems to make considerable cost savings, as compared to placing older people in traditional institutional care.
In an attempt to support these strategies, the Ministry of Social Development in New Zealand created the New Zealand Positive Ageing Strategy in 2001, which seeks to promote “a society where people can age positively, where older people are highly valued, and where they are recognized as an integral part of families and communities.” The Positive Ageing Strategy promotes ten goals to improve the quality of life of older adults, including:
- Improved Health: Promoting equitable, timely, affordable, and accessible health services for older people.
- Aging in the Community: Ensuring older people feel safe and secure, and can age in the community.
- Opportunities for Growth: Increasing opportunities for personal growth and community participation for older adults.
According to a 2015 annual report about the Positive Ageing Strategy, there have been many successes in implementing this policy. These include an increase in the number of senior health programs as well as movement toward increasing the number of health care workers available and trained to care for the aging.
There has been additional success in providing elder abuse and neglect prevention services, providing support to those who serve as caregivers for the elderly through the New Zealand Carers’ Strategy Action Plan, and presenting local solutions to combat social isolation.
Finally, strides have been made to connect older and younger people to promote understanding between age groups; implement positive aging strategies in local communities; and provide opportunities for older people to advocate for their needs and well-being within the government.
With a projected rise in the aging population over the next couple of decades in New Zealand, promoting policies that support aging in place can have a significant positive impact on the quality of life of the aging.
Diana Kingsbury is a PhD student and graduate assistant in prevention science at Kent State University College of Public Health.