As healthcare improves, so does the number of the elderly. A new UK study shows that the number of over 85s will increase by one third by 2020, that is as many as two million people in the country. While the elderly themselves are happy about the state of their health, concerns are expressed over the possible additional burden on the NHS and social services.
Almost nine in ten of the 85+ are expected to have at least three diseases, researchers from Newcastle University said. The Study looked at 1,042 people born in 1921 and registered with GPs in Newcastle upon Tyne and North Tyneside.
AdvertisementThis large cohort of 85 year olds showed good levels of both self rated health and functional ability despite significant levels of disease and impairment. Hypertension, ischaemic heart disease, atrial fibrillation, depression, and dementia may be underdiagnosed. Notable differences were found between the sexes: women outnumbered men and had more disease and disability, it was stated.
For planners of services, on the basis of present demographic trends, we can say that in the UK by 2020 the 85 year old population will increase by 33%, 10% of whom currently require institutional care, 32% of whom have had an outpatient attendance, and 7% an attendance at an accident and emergency department in the past three months; it is likely that these figures will be closely paralleled in other high income countries. In addition, 61% of older people not in institutional care were living alone, which has implications for the availability of help with activities of daily living and hence to providers of social care.
"The survey findings highlight the potential unmet health and social care needs of this age group mirroring the findings of a study in the late 1950s. In times of scarce resources for health and social care these findings can be used by local and national policy makers to help target those in greatest need. In summary, these 85 year olds seemed optimistic, most rating their overall health as good, very good, or excellent compared with others of the same age. Our study shows the opportunities available to intervene to improve health further in this age group. If the data are extrapolated to the future, much larger, populations of 85 year olds in developed countries, implications for health and social care and the resources needed to provide these are profound," the researchers wrote in the British Medical Journal online.
The figures also suggest there will be a pension black hole as there will soon be fewer than three people of working age for each pensioner and the government intends to increase the state pension age from 65 to 68.
Andrew Harrop, Head of Policy at Age Concern and Help the Aged, said: "The fact that people are living longer lives is cause for celebration, but the growth of an older population will also mean significant challenges for policy makers in terms of funding and investing in the sort of services which an ageing society will rely on.
"As this study shows, more funding for research into the diseases associated with ageing - from incontinence to dementia - is needed.
"The sharp increase in the number of people aged 80 and over predicted over the next years also makes a powerful case for a thorough reform of the creaking care system, which is struggling to satisfy the current needs of our older population."