This will be the Age of Old Age

One in three children born today will live to be 100. So is this a good news story – or a nightmare scenario?

The Queen is going to be terribly busy during the final years of her reign, writing birthday telegrams to Britain's rapidly growing number of centenarians. Her successors, it would appear, will be even busier.

There are currently 6,500 people aged 99 in the UK, which means that Her Majesty will post birthday felicitations to around 18 people every day over the coming year. But by 2047, the new monarch may have to raise the age bar – otherwise he will be penning 260 birthday telegrams every day.

A third of babies born this year are expected to survive to celebrate their 100th birthday, according to new projections by the Office of National Statistics, compared to 12 per cent of people aged 65 in 2012. In 1961, when records began, there were just 626 centenarians in the UK; there will be 455,000 by 2060.

Before panic sets in about an "age time bomb", let us not forget that this is a good news story, which began unfolding in the 20th century as killer childhood infectious diseases were largely irradicated in the developed world. It is a success of humanity that developing nations strive to replicate.

Avan Aihie Sayer, professor of geriatric medicine at the Medical Research Council unit at the University of Southampton, said: "We are living longer and healthier... yet there is such bad PR about the whole thing. Ageism is so pervasive, yet is it an odd form of discrimination because unlike racism and sexism, we are all ageing."

The fact that most babies now survive childhood is the most significant reason for massive increases in life expectancy during the first two- thirds of the last century. In addition, improvements in maternal health over the same period means we are no longer as biologically old as we used to be: we are not only dying later, but we are also developing disabling illnesses later, according to Professor Finbarr Martin, President of the British Geriatrics Society.

"The things that kill people when they are old are affected by public health measures, in particular immunisation, central heating, and great improvements in social care, which means people are more likely to recover if they become ill or disabled," said Professor Martin. "The challenge for us is to try and squeeze disability and disease into the last few years of life."

One condition that becomes substantially more likely the older we get is dementia, which affects one in 14 people over 65, one in six over 80, and one in three over 90. Research into it received a cash injection yesterday as David Cameron announced a 140 per cent increase of public funds by 2015.

Hannah Clack, from The Alzheimer's Society, said: "As we all live longer and get better at curing other conditions, the number of people with dementia is going to rise exponentially. There are already 800,000 in the UK and this will double and cost triple within a generation."

But it is not only dementia that is a concern. Our buckling health service was set up to deal with single-organ acute conditions mostly affecting middle-aged people or younger pensioners. Yet the NHS, like the social care system, is now mainly used by frail very old people with multiple conditions, who have a range of complex problems that affect their ability to function independently.

Professor Sayer said: "This is where the big buck stops for government: how to provide health and social care for frail people with complex needs when you have a system that is currently not fit for purpose."

It is, in some respects, all about the money as a rapidly ageing population means there are proportionately less taxpayers to foot the bills.

Jonathan Clifton, from the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank, said: "No solution to the funding of social care is fair or plausible without tapping into the wealth of the baby-boomers in some shape or form. We will need to find ways to release the equity pensioners have built up in their homes to help cover the cost of care, as well as encouraging the younger generations to insure themselves against future costs of care."

Michelle Mitchell, charity director of Age UK, said: "Increasing life expectancy is one of the great triumphs of medical and social progress – we now need to work to ensure that those extra years of life are as fulfilling as possible for older people. To do this we need, as a society, to jettison traditional views of what life should be after 65 without losing sight that many older people need increasing care and support in their later years."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own