While Irish women have a life expectancy of 83, they will, on average, only remain healthy until the age of 70, leaving them with 13 years of potential bad health, new European research indicates.
While life expectancy is constantly increasing in the countries of the EU, living longer is not always the same as living well and knowing to what age a person will live in good health is a different question altogether.
Prof Carol Jagger of the University of Leicester is part of the European Health Expectancy Monitoring Unit (EHEMU), which has undertaken a research project on healthy life expectancy within the EU. Using a new indicator called ‘healthy life years’, the researchers found that in 2005, life expectancy in the EU was 78 years on average for men and 83 for women, while men live on average without any health problems up to 67 years of age and women up to 69.
However according to Prof Jagger, great disparities persist between the different countries of the EU. Furthermore the differences in healthy life years are even greater than differences in life expectancy.
According to the findings, Irish men can expect to live until the age of around 78, however their average healthy life years figure is around 68, which means they face a potential 10 years of bad health.
However this is still less than the 13 years of potential bad health faced by Irish women.
The study showed that people living in Estonia have the lowest healthy life years, at 59 for men and 61 for women. While Denmark has the highest, at 73 years for men and 74 for women.
The researchers noted that the results correlated with the overall wealth of the different countries as measured by GDP and the average level of health spending by the countries on older people. In general, a strong GDP and higher health spending were associated with more healthy life years at age 50.
For men, long periods out of work (over 12 months) and poorer education were equally responsible for fewer healthy life years.
The disparities observed are even stronger among the last 10 countries to have joined the EU. For most of these countries, the age of retirement is higher than or coincides with the average age at which people can hope to live without health problems.
“Without an improvement in the state of health of older people, it will be difficult to raise the retirement age or bring more older workers into the workforce for certain EU countries,” Prof Jagger commented.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, The Lancet.
These findings support the need for more support for older people living in the community including of course the restoration of the entitlement of medical cards to all older people over 70.