Support for the elderly 'biggest NHS challenge'
HEALTH care in the Highlands will be dominated over the next 20 years by a rapid rise in the number of elderly people living in the area, a new report warns.
The population in the NHS Highland area has grown from 300,840 in 1999 to 310,530 last year, and is predicted to increase to 340,000 by 2030.
The number of residents aged over 65 was 43,000 in 1980, but this is expected to rise to 103,000 by 2033.
Dr Margaret Somerville, NHS Highland's director of public health, says in her annual report that while many older people remain ?t, active and able to live independently, there needs to be a fresh approach to helping and supporting the minority of the elderly population who are frail with multiple long-term conditions.
She said the situation challenged the health board to think differently about how it approached the management of these conditions. The aim was to enable people to live as independently as possible for as long as possible.
Life expectancy in Highland averages 76 years for men and 81 for women, and is increasing in line with the rest of Scotland. However, overall Scottish life expectancy is lower than in some parts of Europe.
Dr Somerville pointed out that up to half of all circulatory diseases and cancers could be prevented by tackling the major risk factors.
She said between 90 and 100 hospital beds in NHS Highland are likely to be occupied every day by people with conditions attributable to alcohol, smoking and obesity at a cost of 15.4 million per year.
Providing targeted individual and group support to help smokers stop smoking coupled with wider initiatives, such as banning tobacco advertising and smoking in public places, and promoting smoke-free homes and cars, had led to a steady decline in the number of adults who smoke, she says.
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