Australia is getting older. As a population we are ageing, and at an increasingly rapid rate. It is predicted that people aged 65 and over will comprise 22 per cent of the population by 2057. That will mean 8.7 million older people by then, compared to 3.7 million in 2017.
An ageing population presents both challenges and opportunities. Across the social, political and economic spheres, this trend will have a significant impact in terms of everything from healthcare provision to transportation planning.
As such, the ageing population will influence how a wide range of industries operate in the future – and present opportunities for professionals to innovate and generate new and creative ideas to meet the challenges those industries will face.
At Charles Sturt University, our academics are working to ensure that our graduates are prepared to contribute to the evolution of these industries in the future. We talked to some of our experts to discover how their subject areas are adapting, and the sorts of issues graduates will be tackling.
Social work and community involvement
Social work will play a key role in helping older people retain a good quality of life. Robin Harvey, a lecturer in the Master of Gerontology, explained some of the key aspects that social work in the future will deal with in an ageing population.
“A key thing for elderly people is the capacity to stay on in a place, which is what most people want to do, and what the government would like, as it is cheaper to look after older people in their own homes than provide full care for them.
“But in order for that to work well you need communities that have resources that can sustain people – things such as suitable housing, the walkability of the community, sufficient public transport (particularly in rural areas), good internet connections to help people stay in touch with one another.
“That’s all important for healthy social connections. Social isolation is very detrimental to health. And older people have a lot to contribute. Lots of people in retirement have time and experience to offer. But if they are restricted from getting around or communicating effectively, not only do they suffer from social isolation, their expertise is underutilised. Social workers are involved in helping people and communities with these issues, and advocating for policies and resources that ensure it can happen.”
Ms Harvey also pointed out that viewing older people as a demographic separate from all others is misguided.
“Improving these things is not just about elderly people; the things you would do for them would have multiple values across different social sectors. Better, cheaper public transport, for instance, would help elderly people, but also mean that lower income families and mothers with young children could get around more easily – again reducing social isolation and aiding a sense of community.
“What benefits older people is often good for all of us.”
Building strong foundations with podiatry
One of the key industries that helps to ensure older people are able to be actively involved in their communities is podiatry.
Podiatry is much more than simply working with people’s feet; it involves a very broad scope of practice, and podiatrists work with people across their lifespan.
Kristy Robson, Lecturer in Podiatry at Charles Sturt University, explained the wide range of services podiatrists can provide to older people.
“Podiatrists work with people with chronic disease, such as diabetes, arthritis, neurological and vascular conditions. We assess gait (walking) and musculoskeletal problems through biomechanics and treat a range of sport injuries as well as foot and lower limb pain. To assist our management we can prescribe a range of medications, undertake minor surgery under local anaesthetic, and refer for X-rays, ultrasounds and blood tests. We also prescribe a range of orthotics (inserts) to correct walking patterns, reduce pain and off-load high-pressure areas that can lead to wounds.
“So for the ageing population, there is a lot of work in maintaining or enhancing people’s mobility, which has a significant influence on how people can engage in daily living and their community.”
Dr Robson highlighted how a shortage of qualified professionals with this range of skills, especially in rural and regional areas, means that the future looks bright for podiatry careers.
“The ageing population means there is a lot of demand for podiatric services and as the public becomes more aware of our diverse scope of practice, greater opportunities exist that will offer graduates a rewarding and varied career.
“With an increasing focus on healthy ageing within our communities, there is a huge niche in the market for podiatrists to step into in the rehabilitation and sports medicine space. Podiatry is well positioned to help maintain people’s independence through increased mobility and active living, as well as support older people with chronic conditions continue to live and actively engage within their community.”
A healthy age
The ageing population will also present career opportunities in the field of nursing, as outlined by Maree Bernoth, Associate Professor of Nursing at Charles Sturt.
“The growing number of older people means that healthcare workers can work with people from preconception right through the lifespan, so that patients have quality of life throughout their lives. That’s exciting for healthcare workers. More people living longer is a sign of a successful society, but we want people to age so they don’t have co-morbidities and chronic health problems that some of our current older cohort of people have.
“And as we understand more about the ageing process and effects on it through research, frontline healthcare staff like nurses can help people apply this knowledge to ensure their quality of life, such as health promotion about lifestyle choices as we age.”
Meeting the future challenges
These are just a few of the industries that are adapting in order to ensure they can help the growing number of older people in Australia enjoy a fulfilling life – throughout their life. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Everything from dentistry to town planning will undergo shifts in practice. For instance, academics at the university are involved in a planning program that looks at ways to make public parks more user-friendly for older people in order to enhance physical activity, social interaction and enjoyment of nature.
As the nature of Australia’s population changes, industries will need to adapt. And having skilled, innovative professionals in those industries is a major reason why they will rise to the challenges ahead.
If you want to be part of that drive for innovation and providing exceptional services to your community in a range of industries, find the right course with Charles Sturt so you can start now, whichever industry you want to join.