8.11 Health problems of the aged
The health of ethnic aged people may have suffered from a number of factors related to occupational hazards, particularly related to heavy manual work, like lifting, psychological disorders associated with stress, migration and settlement (AIMA, 1986, Mykta, 1981). Dementia is a very common problem in old people - up to 5% in those over aged 65, and up to 20% in those aged over 80 (Graycar, 1986). The proportion of those with some form of disability varies from 0.5% in those under the age of 65 to 25% of those over the age of 75 ( Warhola, 1980).
Although some studies (e.g.Young 1986) report reduced mortality rates in ethnic aged compared to Australian-aged population, this does not appear to be borne out in relation to the Maltese aged migrant.
Studies relating specifically to Maltese-aged migrant health are non-existent. However, some studies have shown that the Maltese have one of the highest mortality rates from cancer of the lungs and diseases of the heart including high blood pressure, possibly associated with the very high incidence of diabetes mentioned earlier (see Chapter 7). In both male and female aged Maltese, the mortality rates in persons aged and over is amongst the highest of all ethnic groups, being 44% in 2 s and 26% in females. Although these rates are comparable to the .Australian rates overall (44%), they are much higher than the corresponding rates for South Europeans, namely 31% for males and 16% for females (Young 1986, p 179). It is curious that in this respect the Maltese resemble the average Australian and North European far more than the South European. The age-specific mortality ratio is 107 few Maltese- born males and 128 for females, which is the highest ratio of all ethnic groups (Young 1986).
One worrying aspect of these studies is the finding that the rate of increase of SMR with length of residence in Australia is very high for Maltese compared to other ethnic groups, being 7.3 for Maltese males and 14 for females. In fact, the greatest increase in mortality with increasing residence occurs in Maltese females. The reason for this curious phenomenon is not clear.
The mortality from diabetes-related disorders was twice as high for Maltese than for the Australian-born. Martin et al (1984) stated that 'the mortality from ischaemic heart disease in Maltese-born men and women in Victoria were higher than those of the total population of Victoria at nearly all age groups from the age of 35 years". This is probably related to the high incidence of diabetes with its consequent complications, and is not unlike the experience in Malta. The reason for this may be found in a combination of factors including genetic make-up, inter-marriage in a relatively small population, and dietary habits encouraging a high carbohydrate intake.
The high incidence of respiratory disorders in Maltese men can be attributed to the very high incidence of smoking, as well as to the large number employed in dusty and unhygenic occupations. Although specific data for smoking patterns in Maltese is not available, it is my impression that the smoking rate of Maltese is one of the highest in all ethnic groups.
Source: Maurice N. Cauchi - Maltese Migrants in Australia, Malta 1990