(photo credit: Sasson Tiram [file])
Israel's elderly population is expected to rise significantly in the next 20 years, and the state must start planning now if it is to accommodate tomorrow's pensioners, according to a study released this week by research body Mashav.
The annual study was published to coincide with International Day of Older Persons, which will be marked worldwide on Monday, October 1. Mashav is run by the Joint Distribution Committee's (JDC) Brookdale Institute and JDC-Eshel, the association for planning and development of services for the elderly.
According to the study, while Israel currently has a lower proportion of people age 65 and up - 693,000, or 10 percent of the population - than other developed countries such as Japan, Italy and Germany, that figure is expected to reach 13% by the year 2025.
"The number of elderly people is growing all over the world. There is nothing that can be done to stop it," commented Prof. Itzhak Brick, JDC-Eshel's director general. "The policies and programs planned today must take that into account."
The study - which drew from data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the National Insurance Institute and the Ministries of Health and Welfare and Social Services - also noted that an increase in life expectancy meant that the country's elderly population itself was aging.
"There is some degree of government planning [for this changing demographic]," continued Brick, highlighting the law passed three years ago extending retirement age for men from 65 to 67, and for women from 60 to 64. "The creation of a pensioners ministry and planning for geriatric services within the Health Ministry are all steps in the right direction; however, it is just not enough."
Outside of the shifting demographics, the study also found that the majority of the country's elderly were generally happy with their lives: 62% said they were satisfied, and 15% were very satisfied.
Meanwhile, 82% of people aged 20-plus reported they were generally satisfied with their lives.
"In general, most elderly people in the world are happy with their lives," said Brick. "In Israel, 85% of our elderly live independently, meaning they are in fairly good health and have a solid pension to live off."
However, he added, the country should be focusing more on those who are not in good health or who are living off a very low income, and should question whether the system provides them with enough assistance and support.
The data in the study showed that in mid-2006, there were 89,600 households headed by an elderly person that were living below the poverty line.
Asked what he believed Israel should be doing today to improve care for the elderly in the future, Brick said a recent international study found that despite their growing independence, most elderly people were still cared for at home by relatives or close friends and that support programs for these primary caregivers needed to be increased.
International Day of Older Persons was established in 1990 by a United Nation's General Assembly resolution. Information from the UN and the World Health Organization released ahead of the annual event shows that over the next 50 years, the number of older persons worldwide will almost quadruple, growing from about 600 million to almost 2 billion. This means that by 2050, one out of every five people will be an elderly person.
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