Waikato researchers will spend the next two years investigating how to keep older people in the workforce, independent and digitally savvy.
A team of four from Waikato University has received a $687,000 grant from the Science and Innovation Ministry to look at how New Zealand can keep those aged over 65 active and independent.
Half of New Zealand's workforce is already over 40 and fairly soon the number of people aged over 65 will hit 22 per cent of the population.
"So we will be needing people to work longer and if people want to, and can, then we need to organise that," researcher Dr Margaret Richardson said.
The Making Active Ageing a Reality project will be led by Professor Peggy Koopman-Boyden, from the university's National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis, who said New Zealand needed to start maximising the potential of older workers.
“Skills shortages are already emerging, so we need to be thinking about improving and maximising the potential of older workers.
"If they can't contribute to their full economic capacity for any number of reasons, then there are implications not only for their individual futures but for business and society as a whole.”
Fellow researcher Dr Michael Cameron said people were increasingly having to work longer to make ends meet, but there were also many that weren't ready to give up work at 65, as they remained fit and healthy.
He said staying in the workforce had been linked to better health outcomes and feelings of being better connected.
As well as increasing personal wealth, there were also positives for the wider economy.
"We know [an ageing population] has a very substantial impact on the economy, because if you have a larger number of older people, as we do, who are moving out of work, they are no longer producing things for the economy, but they are possibly demanding goods and services. So it puts a much larger burden on the rest of the population trying to carry that."
The researchers will also look at how older people are interacting with technology and the effects that will have on their feelings of connectedness to the world and remaining in employment.
"It's increasingly difficult to engage in a meaningful manner in society without being able to use a computer or mobile phone."
The research will also look at how to support older people living alone.
They will work with several organisations as they run focus groups and workshops, and will involve employers, representatives from the commercial and public sectors, policy makers and service providers.
Doris nurtures mind and body
Hamilton's Doris Ratcliffe knows how important being active and engaged is for staying happy and healthy.
Next week she'll celebrate her 94th birthday, but shows no signs of slowing down.
She has a social outing planned for every day of the working week and when the Times caught up with her she'd just finished her Wednesday activity - a Zumba Gold class.
"I'm still on the go," she said.
"I got my Zumba Gold bracelet today to show that I haven't missed a class since it started [in June]."
She was one of around 40 older people - including several men - to get their groove on during the class held at the Celebrating Age Centre.
While she has a computer at home, Mrs Ratcliffe barely uses it because she prefers talking to people in person, over the phone or by writing letters.
"So I don't feel out of contact at all. I like to dress nicely as well and look trendy, without being 18 again."
Mrs Ratcliffe, a former typist, also lives alone in a two-storey flat.
"So I find the more fit I am, the more independent I can be."
She said it also means one of her daughters, who lives in Hamilton, doesn't have to worry about her.
She encouraged every retiree to get out there and stay connected. "It keeps your mind up and your body well."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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