Britain should do more for its centenarians

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Experts have stated that Britain needs to re-assess how it cares for its oldest people. The country needs to expand its home care capacity to meet the demands of the rising numbers of people who are living beyond the age of 100 years.

The number of people living past 100 years has almost doubled during the past ten years. The figures are expected to reach around 500000 by 2066.

Researchers from Kings College London undertook the first study for the assessment of particular social and health care needs of those over 100, has found that too many of these older people are dying in hospitals, mainly because of their increased risk to infections like pneumonia.

The leader of the research team and clinical lecturer in palliative care at Kings College, said that it is necessary for Britain to increase the number of care beds available to keep frail patients from being admitted to hospital.

She added that centenarians have avoided dying from chronic illness, but they are increasingly frail and vulnerable to other poor health issues, such as pneumonia. There is a need to increase the capacity of high quality care homes, community health and responsive GP services to allow these people to be in familiar, comfortable surroundings during the last months of their lives.

The analysis viewed the cause and place of death for around 36000 centenarians who died during 2001 and 2010 and compared these findings to those in their 80s and 90s who died during the same period. It was found that the main death causes changed as age increased. People in their 80s and 90s were at higher risk of dying from a long-term illness, such as respiratory or heart disease. However, among centenarians, the most common cause of death, according to their death certificates was ‘old age’. This accounted for 28% of the deaths, and pneumonia was given as the cause in 18%.

The charity director at Age UK, Caroline Abrahams, said that the oldest people in Britain needed a health system in line with caring for those with complex needs.

She said that the planning of suitable care, whether it is on a daily basis or near the end of life, is very often found to be uncoordinated and patchy. This often leads to deterioration in health, which is indicated by the causes of death that are described in the report. It also increases the chances of the older people dying in hospital which is not what people want. She added that the NHS needs to adapt its service to the needs of older people, particularly those who are most in need of the health and care services.

Image Credit: Juhan Sonin

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