Healthier lifestyles urged as life expectancy rises for the over-65s
New figures from Public Health England have revealed a rise in life expectancy to its highest ever level overall among the over-65s.
The report suggests that, on average, men aged 65 today can expect to live another 19 years and women a further 21 years, however there are concerns that life expectancy still varies across the country and, while elderly people are living for longer, too many are doing so in poorer health.
Across local authorities in England in all but one region, life expectancy in 2014 increased or remained at the same level but in the North East, life expectancy for men actually decreased.
Comparative data from health authorities across the EU relating to 2013 also shows that life expectancy is generally on the rise, however the UK increase appears to be smaller than the EU average across the majority of age ranges analysed. It follows a dip in life expectancy in 2012, in England and in many of the larger EU countries, but rates have steadily recovered in England, in Scotland and in Wales since then.
Quality of life
Professor John Newton, Chief Knowledge Officer at Public Health England says it is currently unclear what had caused this variation between local authorities. He says that overall, the trend is positive and makes achieving “a good quality of life in later years even more important".
"This report is an opportunity to remind people that, even during mid-life, it is not too late to improve your health," he adds.
"Most of us could make changes today, like stopping smoking, being more active or eating better, that would allow us to look forward to healthier later years.”
Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Human Geography, University of Oxford says: “Although national average life expectancy continues to rise, in many parts of England improvements have stalled in recent years. There is an urgent need to determine why this is happening. Beneath the headline figures of this report there is evidence of worsening health for many older people in some parts of the country.”
Overall, life expectancy has been steadily increasing since the 1800s, when it was around 40 years old. Since then, huge advances in medicine, healthcare, nutrition, sanitation and improvements to working and living conditions have all contributed towards the longer, healthier lives we can expect to lead today.
The bigger picture
While estimates suggest that up to a third of babies born today should live to celebrate their 100th birthday, a new report from think-tank the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK) indicates that the future of ageing may be bleak unless forward planning improves.
ILC-UK says that our ageing society has the potential to offer “significant social and economic opportunities” but for this to happen, policymakers must take action.
The report predicts that, unless action is taken now to address the issue, in a decade’s time pensioner incomes will start falling as more people retire with less of a state pension and fewer final salary pensions schemes to rely upon.
In addition, ILC-UK warns that our society is not making adequate provision for today’s elderly population, with what it describes as a “crumbling” social care system, a failure to incentivise the prevention of ill health and a housing system which fails to meet the needs of our elderly all contributing to what it describes as a “bleak future”.
Last year a report from the Office of Health Economics revealed that 32% of babies born in 2015 will likely go on develop dementia. ILC-UK says that just ten years’ from now, without action to address the existing funding and workforce shortages, health expenditure will increase and there could be a shortage of up to 1 million care workers.
ILC-UK is also concerned that, as disadvantaged social groups move forward with inadequate support, the gap in life expectancy between the wealthy and the poor will continue to increase.
Baroness Sally Greengross OBE, Chief Executive of ILC-UK says: “If we want future generations of older people to age well policymakers must act now. The UK’s demography is slow to change and we can make some reasonable predictions and forecasts on how this may influence UK society over the next ten years. This gives us an opportunity to plan for the change we will witness. We can’t wait and hope ageing goes away. It won’t.”
Knock on effect to economy
Dr Michael Hutton, Chief Scientific Officer, Neurodegenerative Disease at pharmaceutical firm Lilly says: “An ageing population is placing pressure on finite NHS resources whilst there are also important concerns about the quality of care, particularly for our elderly population in health and social care settings. The total cost of conditions such as dementia is huge. When assessing the scale of the problem, we must have a holistic understanding of the disease to ensure patients and their families are adequately supported and also to prevent a knock on effect to our economy, as this caring role prevents ‘carers’ from accessing other forms of employment.”
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