Understanding the Oldest Old

In 2012, the Office for National Statistics estimated that there are nearly 1.5 million people aged 85 and over in the UK. We are only at the beginning of an estimated escalation of numbers of people in this age group, projected to reach 5 million by 2050. What was formerly a small number of exceptional individuals is rapidly becoming a whole new generation for families in this country: the ‘Fourth Generation’.

Over recent years, through research, our contact with leading experts, and ourRea3 engagement with older people, it has become apparent to Age UK that we all need to know more about these ‘oldest old’. Often what we hear are stereotypes held over from days gone by – that these oldest people are all frail and in care homes, their useful life over. We are concerned that all of us who make decisions concerning their welfare need help to get up to date with their nature and needs.

So we asked experts to write summaries of what is known in their area of research about the ‘oldest old’. We’ve collected these lay-person summaries into a short book, ‘Understanding the Oldest Old.’

The aim of this publication is to present messages about what we need to know and do, based on research, to professional audiences. This is anyone who works with or on behalf of the oldest old, such as civil servants, national politicians, local councillors, GPs, nurses, care home managers and workers, social workers, carers and care workers, charities . . . the list could go on.

In addition to this book, we have dedicated part of our website to this issue, with in-depth materials, downloadable copies of this book, diaries from people talking about what their lives are like at this age, a fact sheet, and more.

Key messages from the experts

Among the messages emerging from the research conducted by the leading experts contributing to this book, several key points have emerged that all professionals making decisions about the oldest old should know, such as:

  • Life is not over once you hit 85. In fact, most people over this age are rather independent, feel that their health is good, enjoy a good quality of life, and have more than a few years of life left.
  • Assumptions based on the younger old can be totally inappropriate for the oldest old.
  • No matter what chronological age a person is, it is still worth treating health problems.
  • Even the very old and frail need to get up and moving. There is never an age where it’s best to sit and rest all the time!

There is an important message here for everyone. We have been immensely successful in generating a society in which many more of us will have longer, fruitful lives. But the success must be matched by effective services which are truly compassionate and which treat our oldest old with the dignity they deserve. And that will require us not only to acquire new knowledge about the oldest old but to ensure that it informs public attitudes, policy and practice. And that promising ideal is a priority to which Age UK is entirely committed.

Find out more about ‘Understanding the Oldest old’

Read more about Age UK’s research work 

Author: jamesgoodwin1407

Head of Research at Age UK in London, England and Professor of the Physiology of Ageing at Loughborough University, UK

4 thoughts on “Understanding the Oldest Old”

  1. Every single person is an individual, and has their own individual way of ageing. What we all want for our own ageing is to continue to live well, and age with dignity and pride. I love the name “fourth generation”, it is neutral and avoids stereotyping.
    This kind of report and awareness raising helps create a climate where it’s possible to age in this way. And RGRM (music, rhythm, movement) is a brilliant way to keep people ‘up and moving’ and having fun!
    Ronnie Gardiner, creator of RGRM, is nearly 81, still flying round the world teaching RGRM!!

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