Number of over 85s requiring care to double, research predicts

Charity calls for urgent action to remedy care standards

The number of adults aged 85 years or older needing round-the-clock care will almost double to 446,000 in England over the next two decades, research has revealed.

The study, published in The Lancet Public Health, also showed that the number of over-65s requiring 24-hour care will rise by more than a third to over one million in 2035.

However, it also estimated that the number of people aged 65 years and older who are independent and do not need care will rise to 8.9 million by 2035 – an increase of over 60% from 5.5 million in 2015. This upturn will be seen primarily in men.

Professor Carol Jagger, from Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing, who led the study, warned that relying on the informal carers who provide around £57bn worth of care in the UK would not be a sustainable solution in the future.

‘The challenge is considerable,’ she said. ‘Older spouse carers are increasingly likely to be living with disabilities themselves, resulting in mutual care relationships that are not yet well recognised by existing care policy and practices.

‘On top of that, extending the retirement age of the UK population is likely to further reduce the informal and unpaid carer pool, who have traditionally provided for older family members.

‘These constraints will exacerbate pressures on already stretched social care budgets.’

Model

To improve the precision of social care need forecasts, researchers from Newcastle University and the London School of Economics and Political Science developed a model called the population ageing and care simulation (PACSim).

The model accounts for risk factors for dependence and disability, including level of education and health behaviours, such as smoking, obesity and physical activity. In addition, it focuses on 12 chronic diseases and geriatric conditions.

Between 2015 and 2035 life expectancy of men aged 65 will rise by 3.5 years to 22.2 years, and the average number of years spent independent is expected to increase by 4.2 years (from 11.1 years to 15.2). Time spent living with substantial care needs is likely to decline.

In contrast, the average life expectancy for women at 65 will increase by three years (from 21.1 to 24.1). Over this time, the average number of years of independence is expected to rise by less than a year (from 10.7 years to 11.6).

Women will spend almost half of their remaining life with low dependency needs, such as help with activities like washing and shopping, alongside a small increase in years requiring intensive 24-hour care.

The authors noted limitations of the study, including that the models assume that the effect of risk factors on disability remains constant over time. They also did not include other factors that might impact dependency and disability such as alcohol use.

The Government plans to publish its green paper on adult social care this autumn.