Overall life expectancy is increasing but health quality seems to be decreasing in people’s later years, according to a new report.
The study from the U.K. Longevity Center on aging and population is warning that retired adults are spending many of their golden years in poor health and that there are vast inequalities in life expectancy that need to be addressed.
“We need to start having very frank discussions about what social care is going to look like, what healthcare is going to look like… and all of this needs to be set against the context of an ageing society,” coauthor of the Center’s report, Dean Hochlaf, told the Guardian.
The report, focused in England, also showed that the number of healthy years a person could expect varied vastly depending on location. In Tower Hamlets, a borough of London, 65-year-olds only have 6.5 years of healthy living in front of them. Residents of Richmond, a far wealthier borough, could have 14.5.
And as life expectancies have gone up overall, the number of healthy years has not.
“Obviously it is a great social achievement that we have managed to increase life expectancy, but healthy life expectancy is so crucial for ensuring that there is a better quality of life for older adults,” Hochlaf said.
Many of the adults in this group nearing retirement age — those in their mid-to-late 50s and above — are not yet entering a phase in their lives when they stop being active, the report showed. Many of them are self-employed, not yet ready to retire or taking care of others.
“People are still in the labor market, they are doing large amounts of caring not only for grandchildren but for other adults, so it is actually for many people a time of activity still,” gerontology professor Sarah Harper told the news site.
“The evidence seems to be that we are pushing back the onset of disability and therefore if anything we can expect people in their 60s and even early 70s probably to have better health and therefore to be able to keep active for longer,” she said.
But the study also showed the onset is eventually yielded to and once disabilities set in, people are living with them for longer than they once were. And the social and economic inequalities that some people face only add to the harshness of their elongated periods of poor health.
“We can see inequalities increasing and that for many people this is a very tough period of life,” social gerontology professor Debora Price said. “We know that many older people live with very low incomes, poor housing, long-standing disabilities, high risks of social isolation and loneliness, and little power to change things. This is very starkly shown in the report… these inequalities go across the life-course and are reflecting a really unequal society at all ages.”