Guest column: Does the ‘old age’ threshold need to be reconsidered?

Gavin Bashar, UK Managing Director at Tunstall Healthcare

Reaching the age of 65 has traditionally been cited as the start of old age due to it previously being labelled the official retirement age and a milestone for claiming the state pension.

However, with the population living and working longer than ever before – new data suggests that the number of people aged 85 and over will double by 2043 – should we reconsider what is classed the start of ‘old age’?

The balance of older and younger people in the population has also tipped more towards older people, reflected in a rising median age up from 34 years in 1950 to 40 years in 2018, according to the Office of National Statistics. Therefore health and social care services need to be properly equipped to deal with an ageing population.

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Data released in November by the charity, Independent Age, shows that although people are living longer, the ageing population are spending longer in ill health. 

Gavin Bashar, UK managing director Tunstall Healthcare, a provider of connected care solutions, discusses what needs to be done enable people to stay well and live fulfilling and meaningful lives as they grow older, and older.

Ageing population

Advances in health and social care have led to the population living longer and healthier lives. In 2018, a man aged 65 could expect to live for another 18.6 years, while a woman could expect to live for 21 more years, according to the Office of National Statistics. Therefore we must reconsider what is now classed as the start of ‘old age’.

It’s also important to remember that although an ageing population has multiple benefits, including contributing to the economy for longer and being able to spend more time with friends and family, it can also have an adverse effect on demand and funding for health and social care services.

Preparing for retirement

With 65 first being adopted as the default age of retirement in 19th century Germany, it’s no surprise that this has long been considered the benchmark for old age. However, there is now no longer an official retirement age and the State Pension age is rising.

The government needs to consider how to meet the needs of an older population in the workplace, with support from employers, and what is required after work to ensure a successful and happy retirement. With many people saving for a pension early in life, people must also be made aware from an early age what social care options are available to them and the benefits they can bring later in life. This includes the use of connected care and assistive technology to aid their independence for as long as possible.

Innovations in social care

There are numerous examples of innovations in the social care system, such as the development of integrated care systems. These innovations aim to deliver high-quality social care which has closer links to health and is better equipped to deal with the expanding and ageing population.

However, many of these innovations are at a micro level, and more needs to be done to bring this to scale so the number of people benefitting from social innovation increases. Assistive technology can benefit the older population in a number of ways, from enabling people with dementia to stay at home for longer, to giving care home residents greater independence.


Cuts to funding and other financial pressures can make it difficult for organisations and commissioners to continue developing innovations while also maintaining high quality services. Yet it’s never been more important to fund health and social care services so that older people can live healthy and independent lives for longer.

In 2018, the government launched its Ageing Society Grand Challenge and invested £98 million in its ‘healthy ageing programme’ to drive the development of new products and services which will help people to live in their homes for longer, tackle loneliness, and increase independence and wellbeing.

The aim of the challenge is to ensure that people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035.

A £40 million ‘Trailblazer’ competition was also launched as part of the programme to boost innovations that will enable people to live better for longer.

Assistive technology and connected care needs to be considered as a key facilitator of innovations and consistent care delivery. Technology-based solutions and services allow new, more efficient and effective models for health and care management, without increasing the need for greater funding. Assistive technology and connected care also facilitate person-centred care which is crucial if we are to continue seeing an improvement in the long term health of our population and reducing pressures on the healthcare system by enabling people to live at home safely for longer.

In conclusion, although the population is living healthier for longer, it’s important to consider what is needed to ensure appropriate and high quality care is available to all, to provide a foundation for integrated and person-centred care which can adapt as our needs change.

Tags : ageing populationhealthy ageingopinion
Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke

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