New research, published in The Lancet, shows that the number of elderly people who will be unable to live independently is going to rise as life expectancy increases.
The Cognitive Function and Ageing Study, carried out by Newcastle University, looked at life expectancy figures amongst the elderly in England between 1991 and 2011. For both men and women life expectancy over this period increased by more than four years.
The study then compared levels of dependency between 1991 and 2011 for those aged 65 or over – a total of 15,000 adults. It found that, during this period, the number of years when elderly men and women were unable to live independently nearly doubled. For elderly men the figure rose from 1.1 years to 2.4 years while for women the increase was from 1.6 years to 3.0 years.
The type of care needed was classed as either high dependency, where the elderly person needs round-the-clock care; medium dependency when the elderly person needs care at regular times during each day, or low dependency if the care needs are less than daily or the elderly person is independent.
The researchers predicted that, based on these figures, in eight years’ time, a further 353,000 people will have substantial care needs, with 190,000 requiring medium levels of care and 163,000 requiring high levels of care. A further 885,000 will have low dependency needs which will generally mean that they can be looked after in the community.
Although many elderly people will receive care in their own homes, the researchers suggested that, in order to cope with the combination of increasing life expectancy and growing care needs amongst the elderly, the number of places in care homes will need to rise by one third.
Professor Carol Jagger from Newcastle University’s Institute of Ageing, who led the study, explained: “The past 20 years have seen continued gains in life expectancy, but not all of these years have been healthy…This finding, along with the increasing number of older adults with higher rates of illness and disability, is contributing to the current social care crisis.”
Camilla Wonnacott, an associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team and a member of the firm’s elderly care specialist group, commented: “The increase in our ageing population inevitably puts strains on already scarce resources. We are regularly approached by elderly people, or by their relatives, where failing care has resulted in serious and sometimes life-threatening injuries. Sadly, when institutional care-giving is put under pressure, it is often the elderly patient who suffers. “