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Health risks we'll face if we work till 70 May 8th, 2014

With the pension set to rise to 70, it's not just those doing hard physical labour who need to consider whether they can finish their working life with their health intact.

Yes, we're living longer, as Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey loves to remind us. A child born in Australia today can expect to live to around 82, up from about 55 in 1900.

Unfortunately, these extra years are not always healthy ones.

"Not all of the benefits of increased life expectancy are equating to [improved] quality of life," says Professor Mark Harris, executive director of the Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity at the University of NSW.

And as the number of older workers grows – as predicted with a shift to a pension age of 70 – so too will the proportion of people in the workforce affected by conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, cognitive problems as well as vision and hearing loss, Harris says.



How healthy will older workers be?

The proportion of Australians who rate their health as only fair or poor generally doubles between each life stage from 7 per cent of 15-24 year-olds to 13 per cent of 25-64 year-olds to 31 per cent of people aged 65 and over.

Some diseases that are more prevalent in older people and the implications of this for older workers (or those newly retired) are:


Cancer – For many types of cancer, the risk increases with age. By 75, 1 in 3 men and 1 in 4 women will be affected. Survival rates are improving, but even for those diagnosed in mid-life, treatments may need to continue for years and can leave ongoing disabilities.

Cardiovascular disease – The proportion of people affected almost doubles from 45-54 and 55-64. This grows by a further third or so (to almost half the population) by 65-79.

Osteoarthritis – a degenerative joint condition which often affects hands, hips, knees and ankles. After age 45, the prevalence rises sharply. "It hardly ever kills you but it can really affect your quality of life," Harris says. Arthritis and other problems affecting muscles and bones are among the leading cause of employment restrictions.

Type 2 diabetes – Around 15 per cent of 45-54 year-olds have type 2 diabetes and this increases to around 28 per cent of 65-74-year-olds. Says Harrris: "Someone with diabetes who has lots of complications, they may not die but they may spend a period of time quite disabled. They may even have to have amputations."

Vision disorders: Almost double between ages 35-44 and 45-54.

Hearing disorders: Around a third of people are affected by age 55-64 and this continues to grow.

Falls – start to increase age 70-74.

Cognitive issues: "Not necessarily dementia, but people simply having vascular problems in their brains. This starts to happen in the 70s particularly; people start not to be able to function as they have been."




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