The UK’s ageing population, and its impact on the NHS, is a hot topic that could come up in your Medical School interview.

What Is Meant By An Ageing Population?

There are currently 3.2 million people over the age of 80 living in the UK, and this number is expected to reach nearly 8 million by 2050. By this point, 25% of the population will be over 65. 

Although a longer life expectancy is a positive effect of good healthcare (and is therefore a trend commonly seen in more economically developed countries), an ageing population also increases the burden on healthcare systems. 

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The Impact Of An Ageing Population

As more people reach their eighties, the NHS must treat an increasing number of chronic conditions associated with ageing, such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. 

Many elderly people also have complex social needs and require additional support with daily activities. As of 2021, one in six people over the age of 80 have dementia, and 70% of people in care homes suffer from dementia or severe memory problems. The cost of support with daily activities, such as washing, dressing and cooking, can be high and often needs to be partly funded by the patient. People with dementia typically spend £100,000 on their own care

Cuts in social care spending have led to an increase in A&E admissions among people aged 65 and over, placing increased demand on already under pressure services. Inadequate social care can leave elderly people vulnerable to infections, falls and dehydration, which would otherwise be avoidable. If an elderly person is admitted to A&E after a fall, it can sometimes take days or weeks for them to be discharged, which is described as “bed blocking”. 

Certain areas of the UK are affected more than others, because older people are more likely to live in rural areas or by the coast, whereas younger people are more likely to live in cities. 

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Healthy Life Expectancy

Average life expectancy in the UK is currently at 79.9 years for men and 83.6 years for women. However, healthy life expectancy (HLE) is only 63.1 for men and 63.6 for women.

HLE is an estimate of the number of years a person will have ‘very good’ or ‘good’ health. Therefore, people are living longer, but the period of their life spent with a major health concern is increasing. 

The government has an ambition to increase people’s HLE by five years by 2035. To achieve this, there needs to be increased public health education and support around alcohol and smoking, better nutrition, and improved physical health and fitness. This would reduce the risk factors that contribute to conditions such as heart disease and dementia. There also needs to be improved support for people living with disabilities and long-term conditions.

Ageing Population Questions

  • What is your understanding of an ageing population and what issues does this trend bring with it?
  • What chronic conditions are you aware of and what can be done to prevent the prevalence of these in the UK?
  • What do you know about the term “bed blocking”?
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