Intended for healthcare professionals


Number of “oldest old” has doubled in the past 25 years

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 08 June 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3057
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. 1London

    The number of people aged 85 years or more in the United Kingdom has doubled since 1983 to 1.3 million in 2008. Data from the Office for National Statistics show that these “oldest old” now make up 2.2% of the total population, up from 1.1% 25 years ago.

    The 42nd edition of Regional Trends shows that there were 410 000 people aged 90 and over in 2008, of whom more than 10 000 were centenarians.

    Over the past 25 years the number of people aged 65 and over in the UK has increased by 18%, from 8.4 million in 1983 to 9.9 million in 2008. In the same period the population aged 16-64 years increased by 11% whereas the population under 16 years decreased by 5%.

    The south west of England and Wales have the highest proportions of older people with London and Northern Ireland having the lowest. Population ageing is projected to continue, with the number of people in the UK aged 65 and over increasing by nearly two thirds to reach 15.8 million by 2031. By this time those aged 65 years or more will account for 22% of the UK population.

    The greatest population increases will be in the oldest of the age groups. By 2031 a 77% increase is expected in the number of those aged 75 and over and a 131% increase in those aged 85 and over.

    Although the population aged 65 and over is projected to grow steadily in all regions between 2006 and 2031 the greatest percentage increases are expected in Northern Ireland, the East Midlands and the east of England and these are likely to be greatest among those over 85 years. The report states: “These areas will face the greatest challenges, in proportion to existing provision, in meeting the needs of the increasing numbers of older people, including the ‘oldest old’ aged over 85.”

    Commenting on the figures Simon Conroy, a geriatrician at Leicester Royal Infirmary and honorary secretary of the British Geriatric Society, told the BMJ,: “Unless the NHS changes how it operates the consequences will be dire. The majority of bed days are accounted for by frail older people and we need to manage these much better than we do. There needs to be better integration of health and social care. It is also important to look at the physical and mental health of the patient.”

    He added, “We currently have a system where the hospital treats the acute emergency but doesn’t sort out the underlying problems so the elderly patient is likely to be admitted again and again—the revolving door syndrome. We need to put in robust support mechanisms that continue for a substantial period of time.”

    The report states that highest levels of income deprivation among older people are generally found in the north east and London. Life expectancy was found to be generally higher in the south and midlands, although there was large variation within regions. The local authority area with the highest life expectancy at 65 years was Kensington and Chelsea, where men on average lived for another 22.7 years. The lowest was Glasgow City where men aged 65 could expect only another 13.9 years. For women the highest life expectancy at age 65 was again Kensington and Chelsea at 25.2 years.

    The report also shows that the north-south divide persists, with the northern regions having generally poorer health experiences than average and the south being largely better than average. But the report points out that there are some health indicators that do not fit in with this trend. For example, the highest levels of childhood obesity are found in London, with 11.2% of reception age children classified as obese. A high proportion of drug use occurs in the south east of England, which goes against the trend of good health in the region. High levels of breast cancer incidence are found in the south west.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3057


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