Addressing an ageing population
The growing number of older people in the UK presents a number of major challenges as well as opportunities. Statistics show population ageing is forecast to continue, with the number of people in the UK aged 65 and over increasing by nearly two-thirds to reach 15.8 million by 2031.
Britain is ageing fast. Advances in technology and medicine, as well as a falling birth-rate, are all factors that contribute to demographic changes that will see the number of over-85s double by 2030. According to data projections, while the numbers of those aged 15-64 will grow by 29,000 a year, the numbers of those aged 65+ will rise by 278,000 a year until 2037.
There’s much to celebrate as people live longer and life expectancy continues to increase. Just recently, the Queen’s ‘birthday card team’ expanded its workforce to cope with the surge in centenarians as the number of people living to over 100 years old has risen 70% in the last decade. Every person who reaches the 100 year milestone receives a birthday card from the queen and the dedicated ‘Centenarian team’ has taken on more staff to keep up-to-date on Britain’s oldest citizens as new Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates show there are just under 14,000 centenarians in the UK.
In addition, older people are contributing more to the economy than ever before, those over 65 spend £2.2 billion a week on goods and services and nearly 4.9 million people in that age group take part in volunteering or civic engagement.
However an ageing population also presents a number of significant challenges including access to local services, health, welfare and housing. Lord Filkin’s seminal report ‘Ready for ageing?’ has indicated that the UK is ‘woefully underprepared’ for the seismic demographic changes that are already underway. It’s not just government policy that needs to change but also wider attitudes to ageing in industry, business and society:
- Attitudes to ageing: it’s vital we adopt a more positive attitude to ageing and the demographic shift provides us with the chance to re-shape the way we treat and provide for the elderly in society.
- Health and social care: national funding is in crisis and health and social care needs a radical overhaul in order to deliver a service which can adequately meet the needs of older people, as more people live with long-term health conditions as they live longer.
- Finances: changes to pension laws are already underway but more needs to be done to help people prepare for old age. Universal benefit schemes for older people must be reviewed and new systems put in place to ensure people do not fall into a poverty trap as they age.
Preparing for an ageing population
There is much work to be done in improving services for the elderly. But as the country prepares for an increase in the number of older people, there are a whole range of measures and ideas being introduced across a variety of sectors which aim to improve the quality of life for over-65s:
- Minister for older people: the Grey Pride campaign has called for the introduction of a Minister for Older People in Cabinet. This would provide someone who can take responsibility for joining up services that affect old people – health, social care, housing, transport.
- Accessible transport: Ford and Toyota are among companies working on the car that drives itself for those with failing eyesight – the seat that stops the engine if the passenger is having a heart attack and the self-parking car.
- Enhanced town centres: dementia-friendly cities are being designed and trialled that provide training and increased awareness to business and volunteers, and layouts in parks with signposts and sensory attractions. In other areas more public lavatories are planned, as well as pavements and crossings designed to help older people avoid falls.
- Home improvements: the house-building sector is beginning to design properties with those of retirement age in mind – chairs and settees that are easy to use; levers instead of knobs and taps; electric sockets at waist height; floor lighting which lights up as soon as a person gets out of bed; sensors to relay to others if a person has fallen; and cushioned floors in the bathroom.
- Apps for ageing: developers are creating more and more apps designed to help people as they age. From those which help the visually impaired, to pill reminders and organisational tools for those with dementia. For example, the Clockface Test, is a medical app with a cognitive test that can be used to evaluate for dementia such as Alzheimer’s and other brain injuries (due to trauma, stroke, or other causes).
Darren Housden, UK Business Development Manager, Comfort Keepers UK, said:
“With the population becoming increasingly older, much more needs to be done to ensure our older people have the appropriate health and care support services in place, as well as having opportunities to maintain happiness, social inclusion and their overall well-being. There are far too many gaps which exist between health professionals, care providers and organisations from both the private and the Third Sector. We all have a joined up responsibility to close these gaps by working in collaboration with one another to deliver a better standard of overall care and support for older people.”
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