Imagine Tauranga and the Western Bay with ghost suburbs of empty retirement villages.
It is a bleak vision, but one which could become reality if the approach taken to dealing with our ageing population is simply to build more retirement villages, says a Bay social scientist.
Carole Gordon, who specialises in gerontology and works with the region's councils on the issue of population ageing, says institutionalising older people is not the solution.
"With an ageing population, we need to keep people active and well," she says. "If they're not active and well, they cost the state money."
A University of Auckland study this week found that almost half of New Zealanders aged 65 and older are living in residential care by the time they die.
It found 47 per cent of people in the 65+ age group die in rest homes, geriatric hospitals and dementia care facilities - a higher figure than in any other country in the world.
The researchers say the results show not only a demand for such services, but a lack of appropriate alternatives.
According to the Bay of Plenty District Health Board's Health of Older People Strategic Plan for 2012 to 2017, the number of people in the region aged over 80 is predicted to grow at 6 per cent per year.
Healthy ageing population
Health expenditure is expected to increase sharply and the District Health Board (DHB) is promoting concepts of "active ageing" and "ageing in place", whereby older people are supported to remain active and in their own homes.
SmartGrowth, which manages growth in the Western Bay, puts the numbers of people aged 85+ at 3370 in 2013, ballooning to 15,611 in 2033, according to research it commissioned from NIDEA, Waikato University's National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis.
The Bay - like the rest of New Zealand and the developed world - is poised on the brink of a major transition to an ageing population with huge social and economic ramifications.
In 2002, the New Zealand Treasury said: "Population ageing has the potential to become the single biggest economic and policy issue of the next 50 years."
SmartGrowth implementation manager Duncan Tindall agrees the issue is huge. "From 2033, the projection is that 80 per cent of the growth will be in the over-65s," he says. "It's not something that can be ignored."
Falling birthrates and increasing longevity are combining to increase the number of older people and drive down the younger population.
In Tauranga alone, the number of people aged 65+ is expected to rise from 22,880 in 2013 to 54,725 in 2033.
"By 2030, one in three people walking down the street will be aged over 65," says Ms Gordon.
Filling the gap with new migrants is unsustainable, she argues, because the issue of ageing population is the same the world over, and in fact, more extreme in countries such as China, Japan and Korea. "They'll need their younger people themselves. It's a mythology that migration's going to be a longer-term fix because it's not."
Ms Gordon says New Zealand already has more people over 50 than under 50, and population decline will begin when the first baby boomers reach 75 in 2021.
The future of retirement villages
"The retirement villages will face a dying population. We will get left with empty suburbs. What will happen to those villages in the future?"
As national convener of SUPA-NZ (Seniors United to Promote Age-friendly New Zealand), she also supports the concepts of active ageing and ageing in place, and believes ageing population planning by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, the DHB and SmartGrowth is a positive step.
It's just a whole global trend ... it's not about what age you are.
However, Ms Gordon believes there is still plenty of opportunity to address the issue of an ageing population locally, saying a lot of research has yet to be translated into policy by councils.
"At the end of the day, they need to plan for liveable communities where people can access all the services and amenities they need so they can have happy and well lives."
She despises the term "elderly" for anyone over 65, saying people in their 60s are only at mid-life and it is ironic that now societies have achieved longevity, it is viewed as a problem rather than a cause for celebration.
"Older people aren't sexy, or other people don't think they are."
The way forward, she says, is to focus on older people as a resource rather than a burden, and encourage lifelong education and training, using herself as an example.
Now in her 70s, she earned a first-class honours degree at age 64 and says many people her age want to continue working and learning, particularly as they live longer.
"People want to be trained and relevant and add new skills to their repertoire ... some people do choose to sit and do nothing, but most people want to be active.
"It's just a whole global trend ... it's not about what age you are."
She says older people are travelling more and bringing their wisdom and wealth to communities, contributing not only to business growth with the purchase of expensive homes, cars and other assets, but to the voluntary sector.
"They're building a whole new economy called the longevity economy."
The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend will continue examining the issue of an ageing population next week, looking further at health, housing and policy.