The UK’s Ageing Population – Is it time to adjust our thinking?

The population of the UK is rapidly ageing. The percentage of the population that is 65 years or older increased from about 14% of the population in 1975 to nearly 18% in 2015 and is projected to grow to nearly 25% by 2045. By then about one in seven people will be aged over 75. The ageing of the UK population is mainly the result of the large number of people (the baby boomers) born in the decade after WWII reaching retirement age, the low birth rate from the 1970s until the early 2000s, and steady improvements over the last fifty years in life expectancy for both women and men.

The rapid increase in the number of elderly people over the next thirty years will mean that adequate resources will need to be allocated to meet the health and social care and pension needs of the elderly. Those allocations will be instrumental in pushing up public spending over the coming years. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that total public spending will increase from about 34% to nearly 38% of national income between 2019/20 and 2064/65. That increase amounts to about £79 billion in today’s money. A major headache for Government will be to devise ways of ensuring that the increase in the cost of caring for an ageing population will not be a significant drag on economic growth. Striking an appropriate balance between these competing considerations will be fraught with political difficulties, particularly as the growth in the number of elderly people is increasing their political clout. An economy that performs well post Brexit would make it a lot easier for Government to find an equitable balance and thereby minimise the economic and political challenges the ageing population will present.

The ageing population will mean that the number of people with health problems and cognitive impairments will rise significantly. Most elderly people with such problems rely on the NHS to provide the care and assistance they need, and the number who do so will rise as the population ages. Information on the provision of care for elderly people is available from NHS England. Its website is: www.england.nhs.uk.

Families of course can play an important role in caring for the elderly. However, they will face increasing pressure to balance care for the elderly with other responsibilities, particularly work. This is likely to mean that the demand and the supply of care will diverge as the UK will have more people needing physical and financial support at a time when there are fewer people able to fund public services and provide care. Successfully meeting this demand will need adaptations to health and care systems and increasing support for unpaid carers.

Suitable housing can significantly improve the quality of life in older age, while unsuitable housing can be the source of multiple problems and costs. Poor quality housing already costs the NHS an estimated £2.5 billion per year, and this figure will rise. Housing that can adapt to people’s changing needs as they age can reduce demand on health and care services. It can also enable individuals to work more flexibly in later life.

There are a number of features that can make a house suitable for an elderly person. The features will vary depending on whether the person is reasonably fit and healthy or whether they suffer from a moderate or severe health problem. For people who are in reasonable health but who find walking difficult, living in a bungalow rather than a house that has stairs will go a long way to meeting their needs. But in cases where an elderly person with mobility problems lives in a house that has stairs, that person might need a chairlift and access to a ground floor toilet. Other features that could make a house suitable for an elderly person might include grab rails alongside a bath, a seat in a shower, and the repositioning of cupboards – especially those in a kitchen – to make them more accessible.

Having suitable furniture such as a chair and bed that meets the particular needs of an elderly person is also an important feature. Centrobed makes a range of beds and equipment that is designed to meet the needs of a person with a specific illness or disability. Our products include an electrically powered pillow lifter. Many elderly people find this product a great benefit as it enables a person to sit themselves up in bed independently. We can arrange a home demonstration of our products and hire facilities are available as opposed to outright purchase. Email kim@centrobed.com for details.

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