The fountain of youth may still be a myth, but life expectancy in many countries has increased over the past few decades with improvements in nutrition and health care. Ageing is now a global phenomenon with an increasing number of people over 60. By 2050, there will be more than 2 billion older people globally. This has led to more attention being given to the consequences of an ageing population.
Having an older population means it makes sense to start creating a society that values older people, fosters social and physical environments that support healthy ageing, encourages intergenerational relationships and gives older people the knowledge and wherewithal to take charge of their own health.
Life Expectancy in the UK
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS):
Over the last 40 years life expectancy in the UK has been increasing, albeit at a slower pace in the last decade. This increase has been primarily due to improvements in mortality at older ages driven by advances in health care, and improvements in living and working conditions. From 2018 to 2020, life expectancy at birth in the UK was 79 years for males and 82.9 years for females.
However, there are other ways to measure life expectancy, such as the modal (or most common) age at death, or the median age at death (the age at which exactly half the deaths in a time period were below and half were above). These measures give values more closely associated with typical ages of death and are higher than life expectancy at birth, as they are less influenced by deaths at younger ages and are more sensitive to improvements in mortality at older ages.
The modal age at death in the UK in 2018 to 2020 was 86.7 years for males and 89.3 years for females, in comparison with 86.5 years and 89.0 years respectively in 2015 to 2017.
The median age at death was 82.3 years for males and 85.8 years for females, in comparison with 82.4 years and 85.8 years in 2015 to 2017.
Factors that Impact Healthy Ageing
Increased life expectancy is not a great thing to aim for if one’s health is steadily declining. Most people want to live an active and meaningful life into their older age with good physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual health, whilst maintaining good social connections and relationships.
If you’ve read the blog post Think Well, Age Well you’ll know that holding negative perceptions of ageing can affect physical and mental functioning and reduce lifespan. Other factors that impact healthy ageing include:
- Cellular biology
- Environmental factors
- Lifestyle behaviours such as smoking and drinking
- Social connections
Often social and behavioural factors are stronger predictors of death than biology or health care. Unfortunately, families tend not to live together or even in the same town meaning social support networks are breaking down.
A shift in our thinking and policies that move away from negative ageing stereotypes are needed. Multiple sectors including ageing services, social care services, health care professionals, policymakers, families, and older people themselves all need to be involved in re-thinking ageing. Positive actions include:
- Having a positive attitude towards ageing
- Being physically active
- Having access to healthy foods
- Being socially connected
- Living in safe communities
- Fall prevention strategies
We want to envision a world where most falls are preventable, technology is available to extend older adults health and well-being, where intimate relationships are seen as natural at any age and caregivers have sufficient support. We all benefit if older people have productive roles to play at home, in the community, or at work.
See also blog post 7 Tips for Healthy Ageing for ideas on what to eat and how to live to increase your healthspan.