Age UK launches major report into the lives of over-85s

By staff writers
March 11, 2013

Age UK has launched a definitive new report into the lives and health of people over 85, the fastest growing demographic group in the UK.

Entitled 'Improving Later Life. Understanding the Oldest Old', the report brings together international expert opinion to identify the trends, challenges and opportunities presented by the diverse old population.

People over the age of 85 are now the fastest growing demographic group in the UK. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates there are currently 1.5 million people in the UK over the age of 85; by 2050 this will have grown to 5 million.

But in spite of the size of this social group, to date there has been a lack of comprehensive information about them.

Age UK's report focusses on the lives and health of the so-called 'fourth generation', whose needs will change the parameters of public policy and family life.

The research provides evidence of a relationship between levels of physical and mental activity throughout a lifetime and incidence of frailty and poor health in later life.

It found that most 85-year-olds have between three and six long-term conditions, yet the majority rate their health and quality of life as good.

For these frail older people, Age UK discovered there to be significant health benefits to tailored exercise and physical activity, which led to improvements in participants' cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and balance.

The report shows that older people who do not smoke, who are more physically fit and active, and who are generally healthier tend to have better thinking skills. Relationships and outlook on life also have an important role to play.

The research found that social relationships are just as important as not smoking, exercising and having a healthy diet in maintaining physical and mental health and determining a longer life. Loneliness can speed up cognitive decline and memory problems, and - in the face of dementia, in particular - it is important for people to maintain friendships.

People in late old age reported that a self-deprecating sense of humour, optimism, adaptability and a feisty sense of independence helped them to tackle the challenges thrown up by this stage of life.

The report challenges traditional medical assumptions, and warns that medical research trials and the organisation of the NHS services are failing to meet the needs of older people, who are by far the greatest users of health services.

* The full report, 'Improving Later Life. Understanding the Oldest Old' can be read and downloaded here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.ageuk.org.uk/Documents/EN-GB/For-professionals/Research/Impro...

* More about Age UK: http://www.ageuk.org.uk

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Keywords:old age | elderly | age uk
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