In an earlier blog we discussed how people aged over 85 are the fastest-growing segment of the UK population. However, this is not just happening here or in other industrialised nations; rather, it’s a global phenomenon.
Age UK is working with the Gerontological Society of America to invite articles from experts around the world on what is happening, why, and what it means for societies, health and social care services, and policy-makers. These submissions has been published in the recent Public Policy and Aging Report.
Some of these submissions looked at comparing life expectancy, disease, and disability trends in the 85+ group across countries. There are many variations, but one commonality across all of these countries is that the average person over 85 is a woman living alone in the community, which means governments and societies will have to think about how to meet growing needs for these people without family to look after them.
This leads to issues about changing family demographics and multigenerational bonds. Families have traditionally been the backbone of care for the oldest old, usually with women doing the caring. But in many countries there are major shifts toward families relying on the income that women bring in through paid work, the need to stay in paid employment for longer, helping adult children financially, and caring for grandchildren, not to mention patterns of marriage and divorce. All of these factors will complicate governments’ predictions and planning for care of older people.
Another complication is that not enough is known about the older end of the age spectrum. Too often, research studies exclude people over 75. This is especially troublesome in medical research, where results of studies on younger people are assumed to hold true for the very old, who are much more likely to be living with multiple conditions and multiple medications. The likelihood of having dementia also increases a great deal the older one gets.
The counterbalance to all of this are the positives that the articles point out. For example, disease and disability are not ubiquitous nor inevitable for the over-85s. In fact, individuals and governments can do a lot to promote good health and independence into very late life through healthy lifestyles, preventative care and services, and community support.