Increasingly stark projections from recent research portend an ageing population progressively dependent on a muddled political system, which is struggling to find a solution to their future healthcare costs.

Figures from the UK study, published in the respected Lancet medical journal, predict a 25% increase in the number of people aged 65 or over with disability care needs by the year 2025. That’s half a million more elderly needing complex care within a third of a generation.

The study details that:

  • The number of people aged 65 and over will increase from 10.4 million to 12.4 million in ten years (between 2015 and 2025).
  • Of those, the number living with disability will increase by 25% to just over 2.8 million.

Life expectancy is increasing – we know that. When the NHS was founded in 1948, 48% of the population died before the age of 65. That figure has now fallen to 14%. Life expectancy at 65 is now 21 years for women and 19 years for men. That will increase. Better health care, modern medicines and an improved quality of life means that Western societies will inevitably get bigger.

A better quality of life, but for how long?

The study model followed the progression of a healthy population aged 35–100 years through ten health states characterised by the presence or absence of cardiovascular disease, dementia, disability (difficulty with one or more activities of daily living) or death, from 2006 up to 2025.

Ironically, the study found that although instances of cardiovascular disease are in decline, the resultant increase in aged people means that more will become susceptible to dementia.

Cases of disability related to dementia will rise by 40% among people aged 65 to 84, with other forms of disability increasing by about 31%.

So, the figures indicate a population ageing rather than becoming more disabled. But the sheer increase in numbers inevitably means more needing care.

The multi-billion dollar question – what is the solution?

“The societal, economic and public health implications of our forecast are substantial,” say the Lancet researchers.

One solution is to put more money into the care system – build more homes, hire and train more staff, invest in technologies that will help alleviate future costs and improve care. But there is also a role for better preventative education – so people understand how a healthy diet, better individual fitness, stopping smoking, and reducing alcohol intake can prevent cardiovascular problems (which may also reduce instances of some types of dementia). Elsewhere, other studies indicate that older people doing part-time work or ‘late-life volunteering’ show lower rates of deteriorating mental and physical health and delayed mortality.

Technology can help in many ways – to alert care home staff of a change in a patient’s medical situation, monitor medicines and capture data, or simply to increase communication between carers and family members. Yet a strong commitment to investment is needed by Government and care providers, and for that to happen a realisation of the true scale of the problem is paramount. Mobile technology solutions are getting more affordable, but the appetite for embracing new processes and technologies still lags in this sector. What is needed is a culture of change and mobile screens that are as intuitive to use as your mobile phone.

As more people are expected to pay for their own healthcare, the plain truth is that, given the predictions, incremental change is not going to be enough; change is needed on a large scale and at a far greater pace than at present. Investment is part of that change and the problem needs to be addressed now, with a balanced strategy put in place to implement technological improvements and improve the future for our ageing population.

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