Ageing population will double for city

By Cassandra Mason

If Tauranga's ageing population is going to double in the next 30 years the city needs to improve access for people over 65, local elderly people say.

The New Zealand population aged 65 and over has doubled since the early 1980s and is likely to double again by 2040, Statistics New Zealand announced today.

At 635,200, the population aged 65+ now accounts for 14 per cent of people living in New Zealand.

Figures released last year showed 22,000 people over 65 were living in Tauranga - almost 19 per cent of the total population and about 3 per cent higher than the national average.

Pensioner Frank Nicholls, 91, said if Tauranga was going to cope with an ageing population, it needed to do something about hazardous footpaths.

"We get nothing apart from the free bus service. One of the worst things for the elderly is, the council as a group can get in their cars, but the elderly are forced to get on their scooters or go on foot."

Mr Nicholls knew a number of elderly people who had tripped and fallen on Tauranga's footpaths, which he said were cracked and disgraceful.

Tom Underwood, 64, said mobility scooter access needed to be prioritised as the population got older - even at the expense of cycling tracks.

"They've got to start thinking realistically and mobility scooter access is something they have to look at."

But he added that Tauranga was "forward thinking" in many ways and the road networks had come a long way since he arrived in Tauranga almost 40 years ago.

Rates were not bad for people over 65 and Tauranga was a good place to live, he said.

Mayor Stuart Crosby said an ageing population was a "significant issue" for Tauranga and preparation had already begun.

There were many things to think about, including building access for the elderly, housing and the way information was made available.

Tauranga City Council was the first council in New Zealand to develop a framework in this area, and there were now many strategies evolving that looked at how to prepare, he said.

But the growth in people over 65 needed to be seen as more positive.

"It's not a negative issue. It's quite a positive thing that people are going to live longer, they're going to be healthier and they want to remain more active," Mr Crosby said.

Statistics New Zealand senior demographer Kim Dunstan said New Zealand's ageing population was driven largely by medical advances, improved sanitation and smaller families.

"The baby boomers are often incorrectly described as the cause of population ageing ... but if we didn't have them we'd still have an ageing population."

Impacts of the growth would be "widespread" across almost every sector of New Zealand society including the economy, the health sector and the labour market.

But things were different for elderly people these days, thanks to better life expectancies and health care. "They're not going to necessarily stop working at age 65. The whole definition of what it means to be old is continuing to evolve."

Statistics New Zealand's 2013 figures for Tauranga will be available in October.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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