Understanding the Oldest Old

What was formerly a small group of exceptional individuals aged approximately 85+ is rapidly becoming a whole new generation, and the fastest growing one at that.  Age UK is  concerned that those of us who make the key decisions concerning their welfare need help to get up to date with their nature and needs.

Much has been made in the media about fears of the negative effects this oncoming ‘tidal wave’ may have on our health and social care systems. People 85+ make up the majority of those in residential care, and are key users of health services.

Age UK asked experts to summarise what’s known in their area of research about this ‘4th generation’ and set out their advice.   The result is a readable, informative book, Improving later life: Understanding the Oldest Old which presents messages for professional audiences about what we need to know and do in relation to the oldest old, based on the latest research evidence.  There are chapters from over 30 leading academics such as Professor Alan Walker, Professor Tom Kirkwood and Dr John Beard, the director of ageing and the life course at the World Health Organisation.

Key messages from the experts

Among the messages emerging from the research conducted by the leading experts, several key points have emerged that all professionals making decisions about the oldest old should know:

  • Life is not over once you hit 85. In fact, most people over this age are rather independent, feel that their health is good, enjoy a good quality of life, and have more than a few years of life left.
  • People get more diverse the older they get.
  • Assumptions based on the younger old can be totally inappropriate for the oldest old.
  • No matter what chronological age a person is, it is still worth treating health problems.



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