Provocation: The Ageing Timebomb

Posted by chichi | Ageing | Monday 26 October 2009 4.54 pm


Professor Remco Polman, Director of the Centre for Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Central Lancashire provides this provocation on Ageing/Lifelong Health and Wellbeing:

By the year 2060, nearly 30% of the UK population will be over the age of 65, according to this article by the Independent.

What are the implications of this and how are we going to be able to look after this group of people when resources are already stretched?

We need to have a radical re-think in terms of healthcare, the environment and the economy if we are going to be able to secure the future of humanity.

Your thoughts? Share them in the comments below.

Image credit: Age Concern Cardiff


  1. Comment by Neil Pendleton, University of Manchester — October 27, 2009 @ 8.11 pm

    The points raised by Professor Polman are interesting and provke thought.

    Not least that we can see an immediate assumption that the 30% over 65 years will be one of needing care and resources. Perhaps we need to reflect on this.

    We are seeing an unprecedented increase in life span. What no one is yet certain of is whether this translate into a longer period of dependency post-retirement or if there will be an extension in healthy, active years lived. We are seeing proposals to delay retirement age and extend working life.

    We also have to consider ageing as a world-wide phenomenon, with global health and well-being considerations.

    This is change in focus of research in ageing to examining the groups defined as ‘frail’ or ‘successful’ older adults.

    The future requires us to think of changing societal visions of ageing. All ages need to move to a non-chronological and more abilities or performance based model of age. Thus older adults could be providing support for their peers or younger age groups. Many do so in providing their offspring support for child care.

    Perhaps we will see a time when individuals of all ages support the provision of support of all adults with limitations, independant of any broadly defined category.

  2. Comment by Sam Gray — October 27, 2009 @ 8.38 pm

    I’m not sure about this concept. Does this mean that my generation is going to work until they are 90?

  3. Comment by Neil Pendleton, University of Manchester — October 27, 2009 @ 9.03 pm

    A thought provoking statement.

    One point it indicates is the idea of using chronological age as a surrogate for limitations and resource use. This is a common association and we need to reflect on a number of points.

    We have to consider extension in lifespan as a global change. Thus this is a question for the global community. This will have impacts on adults of any country in the world.

    Another feature of ageing is that the increase in lifespan has increased more in the last few decades than ever before. One question no one has an answer to is whether this will translate into an increase in healthy, independent years lived or we will simple see a longer period disability.

    Ageing research has identified that older adults are a diverse group and cannot be easily put into one group. We can see a spectrum from the frail to the extremely able. Thus one interesting notion is to find what makes some older adults defy the stereotypical picture of aged.

    Some would offer another view, which would classify humans as they age in terms of their ‘biological’ rather than ‘chronological’ age. Thus use abilities rather than assumed limitations as a more useful approach.

    Perhaps the better view of the future would be to consider all adults in terms of their abilities rather than age. Thus we can consider people of any age supporting those with needs of any age.

    Many older adults currently provide such support for younger ones, such as grandparents caring for their children’s children.

  4. Comment by Erinma — October 27, 2009 @ 11.20 pm

    Does this spectrum from the frail to the extremely able exist from cradle to grave i.e. are there some people that just are generally healthier and more able because of the life they’ve lived and/ or the luck of the draw in terms of their genetics? Are there any lifetime studies? twin studies? etc? – Is thinking about ‘ageing’ therefore, a red herring?

  5. Comment by Liz — October 28, 2009 @ 9.32 am

    Lots of work has been done around this by the Valuing Older People team in Manchester City council. They have just launched their latest aging strategy for the city which is a thought provoking read of how to deal with some of these challenges within an urban environment. I find it fascinating the way that the answers to this are the same as the answers to the challenges that we face as a result of climate change – looking towards communities where relationships with others are the most important thing.

  6. Comment by Neil Pendleton, University of Manchester — October 28, 2009 @ 9.47 am

    In response to some comments.

    Will we have to work until age 90 years? Well one could say we should have the opportunity to do so if the individual wants to.

    Does the frail or able extend from cradle to grave? No one is entirely sure, but as the proportion of frail adults increases with age then that would suggest not. No one has been able to define those who will become frail in the future yet prospectively, but the concept is still under scientific debate and the research at an early stage.

    Work on valuing older people. This response has a lot of merits. There is little doubt that communities and relationships of the type suggested are essential to maintaining well-being in older adults. This in turn should not only lead to better life as we age, but be less consuming of resources.

  7. Comment by Nigel Barlow — October 28, 2009 @ 10.10 am

    The main problem that we have to address is how the few ie those of working age support the many ie those of retirement age.

    History has taught us that countries with diminishing working age populations will suffer economically.(Of cause you could change the economic model but that is another discussion).

    Yes Neil,we should value the older populatiion as they will increasingly contribute to our society but that will not solve the problem

  8. Comment by Erinma — October 28, 2009 @ 11.06 am

    Are there any societies/ countries that are addressing these issues and dilemmas well? And what other implications are there with an ageing population e.g. women outliving men…?

  9. Comment by Sarah — October 28, 2009 @ 11.22 am

    What can we learn from other clutures about valuing the wisdom of the older population. How can we harness that potential , ie the time they have to devote to their communities, to education. to the younger generation.

    What incentives would the government need to think about to encourage those of retirement age to remain in employment, or to take up new challenges ?

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    […] Professor Remco Polman (Director of Centre for Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences, Principal Investigator Medical Research Council Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Grant) on the aging timebomb […]

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