Dementia puts a stop to rising life expectancy
THE steady rise in life expectancy has stalled in Britain for the first time in 100 years, with dementia and lifestyle diseases largely to blame, a report has warned.
Since the First World War, the average age of death has been increasing gradually and until recently men were gaining an extra year every three and a half, and women every five. But since 2010 the trend has halved with a one-year increase now taking 10 years for women and six years for men.
Sir Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London, who compiled the report, said the downturn was “deeply concerning” and warned that the country could soon reach a point at which life expectancy started to go backwards, as has happened in the US.
Sir Michael, who previously chaired a governmentcommissioned review into health inequalities, said life expectancy gains for Britons had “pretty much ground to a halt”.
“I am deeply concerned with the levelling off, I expected it to just keep getting better,” he said. “I would say it is a matter of urgency to try and examine why this has happened – it is not inevitable that it should have levelled off. It’s been pretty good for 100 years.”
Life expectancy in Britain today is 79 for men, and 82 for women but in countries such as Hong Kong, it has continued to rise, with the average man living until 85.
“We could get to that Hong Kong figure,” said Sir Michael. “So it’s deeply troubling that we appear to have stalled. If you look at how things are going we could get to a stage where life expectancy starts to decline.”
In 2010, the continual increase in life expectancy meant that each day, on average each Briton added eight hours to their lifespan. But that has now fallen to four hours, and is expected to decline further.
The report warned that dementia played an “important part” in the stagnation because of a “sudden and sustained” increase in older deaths. Dementia is now the most common cause of death for women over 80 and men aged over 85.
Between 2002 and 2015 there was a 175 per cent increase in dementia in women and 250 per cent in men. Recent figures suggest that there will be 1.2 million people living with the disease in 2040 compared with 800,000 today.
The huge rise in dementia cases had placed health and social services “under considerable strain” and keeping funding at present levels was “not a sufficient response”, the report said.
Sir Michael said the problem had been made worse by falling wages, growing social inequality and austerity measures. Between 2009-10 and 2015-16 spending on adult social care went down by 6.4 per cent. Although Sir Michael said there was no proof that cuts were killing people, he believed “it was possible”.
“Having more people with dementia will put a big strain on social and healthcare and that will require an increase in health and care spending and that’s not happening.”