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."

Arts and Entertainment
TVSabotage, a major meltdown and, of course, plenty of sauce
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
sport
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
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
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

    C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

    £40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

    C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

    Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

    £55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

    Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

    Day In a Page

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?