At 30 June 2018, an estimated 3.9 million Australians (16% of the total population) were aged 65 or over (ABS 2019a, 2019b). This is projected to increase to 21–23% by 2066 (ABS 2018). Age is an important determinant of health as ageing is accompanied by increased risk of declining health and functional limitations.

This page looks at older Australians—generally those aged 65 and over, unless otherwise specified.

Profile of older people

At 30 June 2018, 1 in every 6 Australians (16%) were aged 65 or over, and of those people:

  • 53% were female
  • 13% were aged 85 and over
  • less than 0.1% were aged 100 and over (Figure 1).

People at risk

Some groups of older Australians may face barriers in accessing and engaging with the essential supports and services that contribute to better health. Groups at risk include people who are culturally or linguistically diverse; people who are alone or homeless; and people who need assistance with daily living or housing. On the night of the 2016 Census of Population and Housing:

  • 37% of people aged 65 and over were born outside Australia
  • 24% of people aged 65 and over lived alone
  • 18% of people aged 65 and over spoke a language other than English at home
  • 16% of people who were homeless were aged 55 and over
  • 12% of people aged 50 and over had a need for assistance with a core daily living activity.

Remoteness areas

Australia can be broadly divided into 5 areas based on service accessibility: Major cities, Inner regional, Outer regional, Remote and Very remote. People in Outer regional, Remote and Very remote areas are more likely to have poorer health and higher death rates (AIHW 2019c) than other Australians. Older Australians are generally more likely than people aged under 65 to live in these areas. In 2018, 33% of older Australians lived in outer regional, remote and very remote areas, compared with 25% of people under 65 (ABS 2019c) (Figure 1). The effect of remoteness is influenced by the higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the population and the different rates of health outcomes they can experience.

See Rural and remote health for more information.
 

This graph shows that the majority of Australians aged 65 or over live in major cities (67.1%), are female (53.2%), and are aged 65–69 (30.8%). 

Health status

Self-assessed health

Generally, self-assessment of health status declines with age (ABS 2019e). ‘Excellent or very good’ self-assessment of health is highest in those aged 15–24 at 68%, but decreases to 42% for people aged 65 and over.

Life expectancy

Life expectancy for Australians has increased, and people can expect more years free of disability. In 2016–2018, Australian men aged 65 could expect to live for another 19.9 years, and women another 22.6 years (ABS 2019d). Years free of disability increased from 59.1 years in 2003 to 63.0 in 2015 for men, and 62.2 years in 2003 to 65.2 in 2015 for women (AIHW 2017).

At age 65, around three-quarters of life expectancy was healthy years. See 'Longer lives, healthier lives?' in Australia's health 2020: data insights for more information.

Deaths

In 2017, there were more than 130,000 deaths of people aged 65 and over (82% of all deaths). Of these deaths (AIHW 2019b):

  • 19% were of people aged 65–74
  • 31% were of people aged 75–84
  • 41% were of people aged 85–94
  • 9.0% were of people aged 95 and over.

The leading cause of death for older Australians was coronary heart disease, followed by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and cerebrovascular disease (AIHW 2019b).

The leading cause of death for men aged 75 and over was coronary heart disease, accounting for 21,000 deaths (13–18% of deaths depending on age). Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was the leading cause of death for women aged 75 and over, accounting for 24,500 deaths (10⁠–⁠19% of deaths depending on age) (Figure 2). See Causes of death for more information.
 

This graph shows that the number 1 leading causes of death for Australians aged 65 or over across different age groups are either: lung cancer, coronary heart disease, and dementia and Alzheimer disease. At least one of these conditions are ranked first regardless of sex.

Burden of disease

Burden of disease analysis is the best measure of the impact of different diseases or injuries on a population. It combines the years of healthy life lost due to living with ill health (non-fatal burden) with the years of life lost due to dying prematurely (fatal burden). See Burden of disease for more information.

Overall, fatal burden contributed to nearly two-thirds (61%) of the total health burden in people aged 65 and over, and non-fatal burden the remaining 39% (AIHW 2019a). Cancer had the largest fatal component of all disease groups (92%), followed by infectious diseases (84%) and cardiovascular diseases (78%). The burden due to hearing and vision disorders, oral disorders and musculoskeletal conditions was largely non-fatal (Figure 3) (AIHW 2019a).
 

This graph shows that the highest fatal component of total burden for Australians aged 65 or over is attributed to cancer and other neoplasms (91.6%), while the highest non-fatal component is attributed to hearing and vision disorders (100%).

Health risk factors

Many serious health issues, including some chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure) are related to lifestyle factors—such as insufficient physical activity, poor nutrition, obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and psychological distress.

Older Australians fare better than younger Australians on some behavioural risk factors—for example, they are half as likely to smoke and are much less likely to exceed the single occasion alcohol consumption risk guideline—but they are more likely to be overweight or obese and insufficiently physically active (Table 1).

Table 1: Behavioural risk factors, by age group, 2017–18

Behavioural risk factor

Aged 65 and over (%)

Aged 18–24 (%)

Overweight or obese (BMI 25 or more)

75.6

46.0

Current daily smoker

7.0

13.9

Exceeded lifetime risk guideline for alcohol consumption(a)

15.3

10.6

Exceeded single occasion risk guideline for alcohol consumption(a)

18.2

60.9

Did not meet recommended daily consumption of fruit and vegetables

91.8

96.9

Insufficient physical activity(b) 

71.9

44.6

(a) National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol (2009): Guideline 1 (lifetime risk) recommends drinking no more than 2 standard drinks per day. Guideline 2 (single occasion risk) recommends drinking no more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion.

(b) For 18–64 year olds, insufficient physical activity is captured here as not completing 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity (where time spent on vigorous activity is multiplied by 2) across 5 or more days a week. For adults aged 65 and over, insufficient physical activity is captured here as not completing 30 minutes or more of physical activity on at least 5 days each week.

Source: ABS 2019e; AIHW 2019d.

There are multiple data sources for information on tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption among older people. The latest results from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) estimated that between 2001 and 2019, the proportion of older people exceeding the single occasion risk guidelines has increased (13.8% in 2001 and 15.6% in 2019) and there has been little improvement in daily smoking rates (7.1% in 2001 and 6.0% in 2019) (Table 2).

Table 2: Selected behavioural risk factors, by age group, 2019

Behavioural risk factor

2001
Aged 65 and over (%)

2019
Aged 65 and over (%)

2001
Aged 18–24 (%)

2019
Aged 18–24 (%)

Exceeded single occasion risk guideline for alcohol consumption(a)

13.8

15.6

71.6

55.8

Exceeded lifetime risk guideline for alcohol consumption(a)

13.6

13.4

31.0

18.8

Current daily smoker

7.1

6.0

24.0

9.2

(a) National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol (2009): Guideline 1 (lifetime risk) recommends drinking no more than 2 standard drinks per day. Guideline 2 (single occasion risk) recommends drinking no more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion.

Source: AIHW 2020.

Health and aged care

Australia’s health and aged care systems are complex. There are many types of service providers and a variety of funding mechanisms (see also Health system overview for more information). Health and aged care services include those provided by medical practitioners, specialists, other health professionals, hospitals and clinics; and community‑based and residential aged care services (including respite).

Aged care

Aged care is personal and/or nursing care that supports older people to stay as independent and healthy as they can. This care is usually delivered in residential facilities or through care visits to the home. Government-funded programs offer 3 types of mainstream aged care:

  • Residential aged care, which offers long-term stays in an aged care facility on either a permanent or respite care basis.
  • Home care (Home Care Packages Program), which provides different levels of aged care services for people in their own homes. It is considered to be community-based aged care.
  • Home support (Commonwealth Home Support Programme), which provides entry-level support at home. It is also considered to be community-based aged care.

At 30 June 2018, people aged 65 and over were more likely (70%) to have seen a medical specialist for their own health in the last 12 months than people aged under 65 (59%) (ABS 2019c). Conversely, people aged under 65 were more likely (51%) to have seen a dentist, dental hygienist, or dental specialist for their own health in the last 12 months than people aged 65 and over (48%) (Table 3).

Table 3: Use of medical services in last 12 months, by age group, 2018

Medical service use in last 12 month

Aged under 65 (%)

Aged 65 and over (%)

Has seen a GP

90.1

97.5

Has been admitted to hospital

21.2

28.1

Has seen a dental professional

50.9

48.3

Has seen a medical specialist

58.7

69.8

Note: Excludes not applicables

Source: ABS 2019c.

In 2018–19, more than 826,300 older clients (aged 65 and over and Indigenous Australians aged 50–64) used home support (Department of Health 2019). This includes more than 8,600 people aged 50–64 who identified as Indigenous.

At 30 June 2019 almost 183,400 older clients were living in residential aged care and 105,200 were using home care. This includes:

  • almost 104,200 people aged 65 and over, and 900 people aged 50–64 who identified as Indigenous, using home care
  • around 177,000 people aged 65 and over, and around 360 people aged 50–64 who identified as Indigenous, living in permanent residential care
  • around 5,900 people aged 65 and over, and almost 20 people aged 50–64 who identified as Indigenous, living in respite residential care.

Not included above are people using aged care who do not have an Indigenous identification recorded.

In addition to the programs shown here, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program provides culturally appropriate care for Indigenous people in locations close to their communities.

Medicare claims

In 2018–19, there were just over 36 million Medicare claims for general practitioner (GP) attendances for people aged 65 and over—29% of the total 124 million claims for GP attendances (DHS 2019). There were more than twice as many claims per person for those aged 65 and over than for those aged under 65 (9.3 compared with 4.2 claims) (DHS 2019; ABS 2019a).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on health of older people, see:

Visit Older people for more on this topic.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2018. Population projections, Australia, 2017 (base)–2066. ABS cat. no. 3222.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019a. Australian demographic statistics, March 2019. ABS cat. no. 3101.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019b. Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: summary of findings, 2018. October 2019. ABS cat. no. 4430.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019c. Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: summary of findings, 2018. October 2019. ABS cat. no. 4430.0. Findings based on TableBuilder analysis. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019d. Life tables, states, territories and Australia, 2016–18. cat. no. 3302.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019e. National Health Survey: first results, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4364.0. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017. Life expectancy and disability in Australia: expected years living with and without disability. Cat. no. DIS 66. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019a. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Cat. no. BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019b. Deaths in Australia. Cat. no. PHE 229. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019c. Rural & remote health. Cat. no. PHE 255. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019d. Insufficient physical activity. Cat. no. PHE 248. Canberra: AIHW

AIHW 2020. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Drug Statistics series no. 32. Cat. no. PHE 270. Canberra: AIHW.

Department of Health 2019. Aged care data snapshot 2019—fourth release. Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed 04 February 2020.

DHS (Department of Human Services) 2019. Medicare Australia statistics, MBS group by patient demographics reports. Canberra: DHS. Viewed 04 September 2019.