- By Michelle Roberts
- digital health editor
The UK is facing an aging crisis and healthcare must intervene, England’s chief medical officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, warns in his report. annual report.
People are living longer, but some spend many of their later years in poor health, and that has to change, he said.
The senior boom is projected to occur in rural, largely coastal areas, and these places are often poor cousins when it comes to service provision.
In disadvantaged regions, age-related problems arise, on average, 10 years earlier.
As young people flock to wealthy cities, areas such as Scarborough, north Norfolk and the south coast of England will age “rapidly and predictably”, says the report, Sir Chris’s fourth in office.
He told me: “We really have to take seriously the areas of the country where aging is happening very rapidly, and we have to do it now.
“It is possible to compress the period of time that people spend in poor health… because otherwise we will end up with large numbers of people leading much more dependent lives.”
Providing appropriate services and environments for older adults in these areas is a top priority, the report says.
Much of the NHS’s work already involves caring for an aging population, and that number will only increase.
The fact that people are living longer than a century ago is “a triumph of medicine and public health.”
But the emphasis should be on quality, not quantity, the report says.
He says major action in two areas could help turn the situation around:
- Policies to reduce disease and disability and help people exercise, eat well and stay fit
- Make housing, transport and other parts of the environment more age-friendly, so that people can live their lives as independently as possible.
Sir Chris explained: “Houses are built for young families… and if you project out to mid-century, a quarter of the population will be over 65, but we still have a housing stock not designed for that age group “
He said people should adopt “old-fashioned” methods to stay healthy.
“Getting plenty of exercise, having mental stimulation and a social network, eating a reasonably balanced diet… these are things that are out of fashion, but they still work.”
People should also make decisions about what care they want and don’t want, and doctors should refrain from overtreating.
Improving quality of life in old age sometimes means fewer medications, not more, the report says.
Sir Chris said: “That could be: ‘I want to go to hospital but I don’t want to go to intensive care’. It could be: ‘I want treatment but I don’t want to have surgery.’ necessary to have the conversation.
Professor Carol Black, from the Center for Aging Better, said: “Many people face enormous challenges and difficulties in their later years, as this report makes clear.
“We don’t all have the same opportunities to age well. Wealth, jobs, housing, discrimination – they all play a role in the huge gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest parts of the country.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Age UK, called for a cross-government strategy on aging and a minister for older people to help drive change.
“We can already see how the lack of investment in the provision of adequate services and support is leading to worse outcomes for older people and entirely avoidable problems,” he said.
“Seniors are isolated at home if the design of our communities means they can’t go out safely. People end up falling, and in the back of an ambulance if our built environment is full of tripping hazards.
“Our hospitals are over capacity, at least in part, because they are not providing adequate social care and community services that allow people to stay safe and healthy in their homes. None of this is inevitable. Getting it right would have immeasurable benefits “.