Good health depends on class, gender and location


THE BEST way to be in a state of good health is to be a wealthy married woman living in a city suburb, to judge from the latest census findings on people’s physical wellbeing.

Most of us – about six out of 10 people – enjoy very good health, the results from last year’s census show, but there are clear differences across class, gender and geographical lines.

Overall, city dwellers have the poorest levels of general health, despite the fact that inhabitants of suburbs in the five main cities enjoy the best overall health. Some 92.1 per cent of the suburban population have good or very good health compared with 88.4 per cent in cities.

Aside from the suburbs, people living in rural areas had the best overall health, with over 90 per cent enjoying good or very good health and only 1.4 per cent describing their health as bad or very bad.

According to the census, Limerick city is the country’s health blackspot with 2.6 per cent of people having bad or very bad health.

It was followed by the cities of Cork, Dublin and Waterford, while Galway was the healthiest city with 88 per cent enjoying good or very good health.

The healthiest areas are Meath and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, where 90.6 per cent say they are healthy or very health, followed closely by Fingal.

The census returns confirm the findings of other surveys by showing the clear inverse relationship that exists between health and social class.

While 95 per cent of people in the top social class enjoy good or very good health, this drops to under 75 per cent for the lowest social class.

Sadly, health appears to decline sharply with age; 87 per cent of 10- to 14-year-olds perceived their health as very good, but this tumbles to 60 per cent for the 40- to 44-year-olds and 30 per cent by age 65-69.

By age 85 and over, only one in 10 describes their health as very good. For most age groups, women are more likely to enjoy very good health.

A total of 595,335 people, or 13 per cent of the population, are recorded as having a disability. Rates generally increase with age, from under 10 per cent for those in their 20s to over 75 per cent for women aged 85 and over. Almost nine out of 10 people aged 65 and over and living in a nursing home said they were disabled.

The 2011 census shows a marked increase in the number of people with disabilities over the previous census in 2006, but this may in part be due to changes in the wording of the questions asked. Over a five-year period, the number has grown by more than 50 per cent to 200,000.

Limerick city, with 18.2 per cent of people disabled, has the highest rate followed by Cork, Waterford and Dublin cities. Galway has the lowest rate of disability.

Outside the cities, the lowest rates were recorded in Oranmore (6.9 per cent) and Stamullen (7 per cent), while the highest were found in Castlerea (22.4 per cent) and Kilrush (21.8 per cent).

The census records almost 25,000 disabled adult children living with a parent and 106,270 disabled people living alone.

Levels of education and participation in the labour force among disabled people were substantially lower than in the general population. Disabled people were half as likely to be at work compared to others.

The census counted 51,718 blind people, 92,060 deaf, 57,709 with an intellectual disability and 96,004 who had a psychological or emotional condition.

Some 2,590 described themselves as users of Irish sign language while another 1,000 used other forms of sign language.

51, 718The number of blind people counted in the census

87%of 10- to 14-year-olds perceived their health as very good

87%Limerick city had the highest rate of disabled people followed by Cork, Waterford and Dublin cities

25,000The number of disabled adults living with a parent

2, 590The number who described themselves as users of Irish sign language


Colm O’Brien is just one of 187,112 carers in the Irish population as measured in last year’s census.Originally from Shannon, Co Clare, the 39-year-old returned from Germany to provide full-time care for his 77-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer’s and has also suffered two heart attacks.

He would also be numbered among the 15,175 people who are providing care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as measured by the census.

While most carers are women, O’Brien is one of a growing army of men looking after family members who have fallen ill or are incapacitated. “Mam suffers severe short-term memory loss, as well as bouts of confusion and agitation. She forgets to eat, and sometimes she forgets that she has eaten, and eats again.”

His was an emergency decision prompted by a rapid deterioration in his mother’s condition and a desire to keep her living in her own home for as long as possible.

He investigated all the other care options before taking the plunge but private care was too expensive and daycare wasn’t an option as the nearest facility is in Ennis and only operates from 10am to 3pm, so he wouldn’t be able to go out to work.

O’Brien doesn’t mind the endless washing, dressing and shopping that form part of every carer’s workload but expresses frustration at his dealings with officialdom.

He applied for a carer’s allowance last February but was told to expect a long delay. He then applied for supplementary welfare allowance but was refused on the habitual residence condition because he had been living in Germany. This was overturned on appeal, though not until after another delay and just as his savings had run out. Ironically, his mother was approved for the Fair Deal nursing home scheme, which would cost the State a lot more than home care.

For O’Brien, who has a four-year-old child in Germany, the future is uncertain, but for now his mother is enjoying the best quality of life her condition will allow, with twice-weekly visits to the local senior citizens’ club and to the hairdresser.

According to the census, the number of carers aged 15 and over increased by 13.7 per cent since the 2006 census, with the largest increases seen in the older age groups.

Remarkably, 4,228 children under the age of 15 are providing two million hours of care a year. Almost 800,000 hours of care a week are being provided by people aged 70 and over.

The proportion of carers is highest in counties along the western seaboard such as Mayo, Sligo, Kerry and Donegal, as well as Roscommon, which traditionally have had high rates of emigration. The lowest proportion of carers was found in Co Kildare, Fingal and Galway city.