In just over a decade, the number of kiwis aged over 65 is projected to eclipse 1 million. Reporter Vomle Springford takes a look at the positives and negatives of wairarapa's ageing population.
WAIRARAPA is fast becoming a retiree haven in New Zealand with a rapidly ageing population and a shrinking pool of young people.
Age Concern Wairarapa deputy chairwoman Tracey O'Callaghan says everybody needs to start looking at this issue seriously because the statistics are sobering.
``There are some significant challenges coming up.''
One third of people in Wairarapa will be aged over 65 by 2031, according to Statistics NZ population projections.
Due to increasing longevity, slowing birth rates and younger people leaving the country, New Zealand is facing what is now a worldwide issue.
But Wairarapa's population in particular is growing older than most regions.
``Everything that is happening in New Zealand is going to be exaggerated in Wairarapa,'' says Tracey.
Nationally the average age of a Kiwi now is 38 years old and in about 40 years the average age will be 46. The average age of a Carterton person now is already 46.
The average for Masterton is 43 and South Wairarapa, 44 years old.
``There will be more elderly than children in just 11 years,'' says Tracey.
In Wairarapa, there will be a significant drop, 23 per cent, in the working age population, by 2031. This means there will be fewer ``working-age'' people whose earnings can be taxed to fund superannuation.
``There's going to be some significant skill shortages and I think in most industries and professions,'' says Tracey.
This is worrying for the primary industry, a big part of Wairarapa's economy.
``Who is going to take over the farms?''
Tracey, who has worked in human resources for over 25 years, says she began to notice workers, like in the engineering industry, going greyer but nobody coming in to replace them.
``That supply chain is broken.''
The people heading towards retirement now, like the baby-boomer generation, are facing a different future than their parents and Tracey says they will also want and need different things.
As well as the workforce, health services and infrastructure will need to adapt to the new generation of retirees.
A key issue Tracey sees in the future for older people in Wairarapa is transport.
``If you've got a higher percentage of older people, how are they going to get around if they can't drive?''
Getting a train is already a challenge, she says.
``There's lots of issues with transportation and accessibility and that would be exacerbated.''
She says elderly people facing health problems and heading over the hill to the Hutt or Wellington for operations will need a better transport system.
``The way the trains are at the moment, for somebody with an appointment at Hutt Valley it's going to take them the whole day. If you're 80 and infirm, getting yourself over there is a real challenge.''
With an increase in older people, there is also an increase in the number of those developing cancer.
The total number of cancer registrations is projected to jump by around 21 per cent over the 10 years to 2016, according to the central region's District Health Boards' plan 2013/14.
And applications to cover the costs of getting cancer patients to treatment are increasingly being denied by the Government, says the Cancer Society.
As there are no chemotherapy and radiation therapy centres in Wairarapa, cancer patients have to go to Wellington or Palmerston North to get treatment.
The Ministry of Health grants financial assistance for accommodation and travel costs but the society says it has a growing record of complaints from people who have been denied assistance.
Elder abuse is also a growing problem nationwide, says Tracey.
She says the increase could be because more people are aware of it and reporting it or more people are being abused.
``The fact that's it happening at all is a worry.''
She says it's not necessarily physical abuse, but can be mental and financial. In fact, financial abuse is becoming a serious issue.
The number of referrals to Age Concern for financial abuse almost doubled in a year, going from 1100 in the 2010/2011 financial year to about 2000 in 2012/13.
Tracey says some people take advantage of lonely, vulnerable elderly who can be generous.
``Soon their antiques, jewellery starts disappearing.''
Last month in Masterton District Court Shane Harwood, a 33-year-old man, befriended a woman in her sixties and swindled her out of more than $34,000.
He even moved into her home and conned a friend into pretending to be his mother to confirm he'd be receiving a $90,000 inheritance from his grandmother's estate so he could pay the money back to the elderly victim. He was convicted and will be sentenced in June.
This issue is why groups like Age Concern are vital and Tracey says it has been trying to emphasise to key organisations they need to prepare for the influx of the elderly.
It has presented to Carterton and South Wairarapa district councils and Masterton is next.
She says councils will need to put in the right infrastructure to address what the elderly will need and also what they want.
``It's really working with local councils and making sure they are aware of the up-and-coming challenges.''
Age Concern aims to meet the needs of older people, and those more vulnerable.
It lobbies to bring awareness to issues in the elderly community and provides services such as social groups.
``One of the biggest issues for older people is loneliness and depression. We provide help so they don't fall into that.''
Mainly because of volunteer labour, Age Concern can keep costs down but getting traditional funding sources can be challenging, says Tracey.
``There are so many community groups looking for money.''
Funding from the Wairarapa District Health Board is looking positive at the moment though, she says.
THE SILVER LINING
BECAUSE people live longer and their health is better, they are often active into their seventies and eighties and many still enjoy working or volunteering, says Tracey.
``Sixty is what forty is now.
``Even if you're not physically able, but you're in a knowledge industry, why would you stop working at 65 if you didn't want to?''
Your cognitive abilities don't suddenly decrease when you reach 65, she says.
Tracey says it is becoming common for people to work past the retirement age of 65 and with a lack of young people to replace them, their skills and knowledge will be valued by businesses.
``If you want to get skilled people, you are going to have to look at the older workforce.''
Tracey says Wairarapa is attractive to a new group of baby boomers with disposable income and as well as the people already living here, will make up part of the over-65 group contributing to the region's ageing population.
``It's not just people here getting elderly, it's people moving over here.''
Carterton is now the fastest growing district in the North Island according to the 2013 Census.
Tracey says the development of Armstrong Avenue in Carterton reflects the new group as many of the people moving in are well-to-do, retired people.
They don't want to live in rest homes, she says, they want to live in active communities, independently in two to three-bedroom homes so their families can stay.
Baby boomers will reinvent retirement in some ways, says Tracey, who is also director of Life Choices, which runs workshops on helping people transitioning into retiring.
So will Wairarapa become something like the ``Florida'' of New Zealand?
A board member of Destination Wairarapa, Tracey says there are opportunities to capitalise on the region's attractions like the golf courses for example, to baby boomer tourists as well as new residents.
``Wairarapa has a lot of opportunities for tourism here. If you've got a lot of older people worldwide with the disposable dollar, they can come for not just a night, there's food, wineries, golf, there's so much for them to see and do.''
This group will also be more forthright about their wants and needs at retirement age, says Tracey.
``Going into old age and retirement, they're not going to be the same as their parents' generation. They are going to be very very different.
``There were so many things that influenced that generation.''
Tracey says if they continue to work, they may want different working conditions, like more flexibility, for example.
``In the seventies there was the feminising of the workforce and going forward is going to be the grizzling of the workforce.''
She says in the UK some workplaces have what is known colloquially as ``Costa Brava leave'' for older workers, which appears to be successful.
``At Tescos [supermarkets] they employ older people on the checkouts because they've got really good people skills but they don't want to work all year around, they want to go to their holiday homes in Spain.''
The rest of the time, students fill in.
She says Age Concern tries to get people sharing their skills and knowledge through volunteering and get generations together to swap and share skills.
Tracey says one of her personal beliefs is changing people's ideas about retirement and what it means. ``It won't be like as you see it now.''
She advises people to carry on being active and ``to use it or lose it''.
One way to keep active is volunteering and there is no shortage in Wairarapa with Lions, Rotary and many charities looking for volunteers.
Elder abuse help
Between 70-80 per cent of elder abuse occurs at the hands of family members and while some people may feel ashamed their own flesh and blood is treating them badly, they are urged to speak up, says Louise Collins, national co-ordinator for Age Concern's Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention Services. If you are or someone you know may be suffering, call Age Concern Wairarapa's EANP co-ordinator Lorraine Katterns on (06) 929-7568