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 & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Sport
Jose Mourinho restrains his assistant manager Rui Faria, Fabio Borini celebrates his winning penalty and Connor Wickham equalises for Sunderland
sportChelsea 1 Sunderland 2: Deafeat is extra bitter as former Chelsea player Fabio Borini scores late penalty to seal victory
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
VIDEO
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Apprentice IT Technician

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

    1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

    £153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Sales Associate Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit