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No. of Sick Elderly Rises Amid Aging Population

Posted September. 08, 2008 08:27,   


“A long unhealthy life is misery.”

A 72-year-old man, "Ahn," used to consider himself very healthy. He had not been hospitalized once prior age 70 despite smoking and drinking. His friends used to call him a man gifted with good health.

A day prior to his 70th birthday, however, he felt numbness in his left arm and leg. In addition, headaches started to badger him. Ahn now also suffers from a speech impairment. His doctor warned him of a stroke.

Due to his immobility, he usually stays home all day in a gloomy home environment.

As the Korean population ages rapidly, more elderly are faced with health threats. As more senior citizens get sicker and weaker, more money is needed to treat them.

Koreans age 65 or over accounted for 7.2 percent of the population, or 3.39 million, in 2000. Last year, those figures rose 9.9 percent to 4.82 million. By 2026, the number will exceed 10 million, or 20 percent.

According to the National Health Insurance Corp., patients suffering from old age diseases numbered 847,000 last year, up 70 percent from 499,000 in 2002. In other words, ninety percent of the elderly suffer from a chronic disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Struck by disease, an elderly patient cannot go out much and stays mostly at home. This type of person comprises 17 percent of the national elderly population.

Weakening health of the elderly poses problems not only to the affected individuals, but also to society in higher costs. An elderly person spent an average of two million won last year for medical treatment.

Higher medical bills for the elderly gnaw away at the financial health of the national medical care system. In addition, the dwindling number of the working elderly also affects productivity.

Seonwoo Deok, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, said, “Managing the health of an elderly person determines the quality of life not only for that person, but also that of his or her supporting relative. Putting it into prospective, the national welfare system is hugely affected.

"The whole nation should pay more attention and work out more measures to take care of the elderly’s health.”