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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Centenarians in better health than many younger age groups

The report ‘Living Beyond 100', launched today at a joint event organised in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Actuarial Profession, warns that health and social care services may witness rising demand from the centenarian population, and that increased longevity may not be matched by gains in disease-free survival.

The research found that many UK centenarians, whose numbers are expected to reach half a million by 2066, have managed to avoid common diseases such as cancer, and often enjoy better health than younger older people.

The report suggests the biggest threat to their independence is the onset of cognitive decline and dementia.

The vast majority of those reaching their 100th birthday are women, although the report says there is greater gender balance with each successive cohort of centenarians.

Centenarian women are also much more likely to be at risk of poverty than men, although due to prolonged periods of economic inactivity both centenarian women and men are at higher risk of poverty than younger cohorts.

Quality of life among the oldest old is found to decrease with age and that the oldest old (aged 85 and over) are, as a group, at greater risk of poverty than younger older people (aged 65-85).

Launching the report, ILC and Age UK called for a series of measures to address concerns, including significant development of the evidence base about centenarians in order to inform strategy, and an holistic approach to designing interventions that integrate health, care and housing solutions.

The bodies also recommended a system of care vouchers, similar to childcare vouchers, that would enable carers to purchase care vouchers to support the needs of older adults.

"Today one in five 20-year-olds will reach and surpass the 100-year mark," said Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK.

"However, there is a real dearth of evidence on what life is like for centenarians and it is clear that advances that have led to increased longevity must now be matched by similar progress in ensuring people are supported to live full and happy lives as they reach 100 and beyond."

David Sinclair, assistant director, policy and communications at ILC-UK added, "With significant growth in the numbers of centenarians ahead, it is vital now that our efforts are focussed on understanding how we support and deliver improvements in quality of life for the oldest old. Government and other policymakers must begin to better adapt services to address this huge demographic change ahead of us."

Key facts from 'Living Beyond 100'
• Centenarians currently number 12,640.
• This number is set to rise substantially and expected to reach half a million by 2066.
• One in five young people aged under 20 can expect to become a centenarian.
• Although we can expect a rise in the centenarian population, in the next century we are highly unlikely to see rises in record life expectancy that substantially overtake the current UK record (115 years).
• Sixty per-cent of over 90s report difficulties shopping for groceries, almost a quarter report difficulties making telephone calls and 35% report difficulties managing money.
• Of those living in private households, four in ten very old men and seven out of ten very old women live alone.
• Centenarians have been overwhelmingly female, although there is greater gender balance with each successive cohort of centenarians.
• 47% of centenarians live in communal establishments
• Total net wealth (including state pension wealth) is generally found to decline with age after 65, reaching its lowest for oldest old (85+), who on average have £155,600 compared to the £379,200 of older people aged 65-69.
• Up to 10% of the oldest old have total net wealth of £3,000 or less.
• While the oldest old and centenarians may be those who are at greatest risk of poverty, those aged 90+ were the least likely to feel that they had too little money to spend (15% of those aged 90+, compared to 19% aged 85-89 and 21% aged 80-84).