According to a UN report on World Population Ageing of 2015 for the first time in history, residents of high, middle, and low-income countries are likely to live to 60 years of age and beyond. Longevity is one of the greatest achievements of our modern era — the United Nations calls it one of the most significant social transformations of the 21st century.
Worldwide, 901 million people are over the age of 60 today. That number is projected to reach 1.4 billion by 2030 and nearly 2.1 billion by 2050.
But the success story of longer lives is a worthless prize if the quality of those lives is compromised because of poor health and a loss of autonomy. To ensure that people of all ages, but particularly older people, can do what they value, national health care systems must be able to respond to those with age-related chronic conditions such as type II diabetes to ensure timely access to education, screening, and appropriate treatment.
Burden on care providers
UK patients are living longer but have an increasing number of conditions as they age, which in turn is adding to the burden on care providers, according to a major new study. The Global Burden of Disease study analysed more than 300 conditions affecting people living in 188 countries between 1990 and 2013. It was led by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in the US and was co-authored by Dr Ivy Shiue, a senior researcher at Northumbria University.
During the 23-years of the study, UK males gained 6.2 years of life expectancy. But only 4.7 of the extra years were considered to be spent in good health whilst women gained 4.4 years, with 3.3 of these years considered to be healthy.
The Office for National Statistics says that the average life expectancy for women in the UK is currently 82.8 years, compared to 79.1 years for men.
The main causes of health loss in the UK were found to be ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, Alzheimer’s, depressive disorders, falls, lower back and neck pain, skin diseases and sense organ diseases.
However, the researchers identified the fastest-growing leading causes of health loss for British men as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and diseases of the sense organs, such as vision and hearing loss. For women, they were Alzheimer’s disease, lower back and neck pain and lung cancer.
“Progress in health does not mean fewer demands on health systems,” noted the study authors in The Lancet.
Their findings reinforce previous warnings about the increasing pressure facing the parts of the NHS that focus most on long-term conditions in older patients, such as primary and community care.
That means people are living longer — but spending more of that time with illness.
“As life expectancy increases, the gap between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy widens,” they wrote.
Life is likely to last longer if it has a purpose and seems worthwhile, new research suggests.
When it comes to life, the importance of quality trumps quantity. What good are more days to live if the days aren’t spent living in happiness?
According to the study, the past 13 years has seen improving treatments for communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, maternal, and children’s diseases. But people continue to be plagued by noncommunicable illnesses, and increasingly so.
In fact, the number of years spent ill from certain diseases including heart disease, stroke, respiratory infections, back and neck pain, and road injuries actually increased between 2005 to 2013.
Are we making ourselves sick?
Many of the conditions that are spoiling our later years are a result of bad habits and not taking enough care of our health. Should we therefore be taking more responsibility for keeping ourselves fit. We often take more care of our cars than we do of our own bodies.
I recently spoke with Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, Director and GP at Your Doctor who advised:
“At any stage of life, it is important to keep healthy and happy. Drinking water, eating well, regular exercise and getting plenty of rest is usually the key to sustaining the best possible lifestyle. This becomes more apparent as we age. Here are ways to help you retire healthily:
- Reduce stress to reduce the possible risk of Alzheimer’s. In the UK, one in 14 people over the age of 65 are estimated to be at risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have shown those affected by chronic stress in mid-life are more likely to develop the illness, due to the degenerative effect stress has on the brain. It is believed to be a result of increased inflammatory processes.
- Reduce your risk of retiring with Diabetes. It is estimated that five million people in the UK have diabetes, 85% of whom are recognised as obese. Start today by controlling what you eat and drink. There are hidden calories in sugary drinks and cutting down on alcohol reduces your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Get your five-a-day fruit and vegetables to limit the impact dementia has.
- Quit smoking to prevent having a stroke. It has been found that smoking doubles your chances of having a stoke – 52% of those affected by stroke in the UK last year were active smokers. Stop smoking to stop the thickening of blood and clogging of arteries.
- Manage your weight to slim down the chance of developing cardiovascular disease. Heart failure is a common cause of death across Europe and excess weight is a major risk factor, as the heart has to work harder. As we age, less calories are needed so try to cut back on foods high in saturated fats or sugars.
- See exercise as fun. Being physically active cuts your chances of cardiac arrest. Try making exercise something you look forward to rather than a chore. Working out with a friend or with your favourite music can help motivate.
- Tackle loneliness and social isolation. Addressing the problem of isolation can be a big step towards a happy retirement. If you fear losing friends and lack social interaction – actively keep in touch with loved ones. Join local groups such as coffee mornings, voluntary work or even dance lessons!
- Learn a new skill to slow memory loss. Now could be the time to learn a new skill like cooking, starting a DIY project or learning how to play an instrument. Keeping your brain busy can help maintain and even improve memory.