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Britain’s ageing population

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The age structure of the British population is undergoing unprecedented change.

The changes in social policy and healthcare which started in victorian times have contributed to the great success of increasingly long lives for a large proportion of people.

The present and continuing changes have and will have increasingly strong effects on many aspects of society, including the provision of health care.

The Office for National Statistics figures show that the number of people aged 65 years and over increased from 7.4 million (13% of the population) in 1971 to 9.2 million (16%) in 1996 and is estimated to increase to 14.5 million (24%) in 2061.

People aged 65-74 could expect to live for 14.2 years if they were a man and 17.9 if a woman. Half of these remaining years are expected to be lived with some kind of disability.

Projecting the number of people with chronic musculoskeletal problems from reported prevalences in 1989 gives an increase from about 2.75 million in 1996 to 4.4 million in 2036. Some of this group with have arthritic problems involving the hips.

It is likely the number of people aged 65 and over will rise substantially over the next few decades. The frequency of conditions such as osteoarthritis rises with age so the number of hip replacement operations is also likely to rise.

Reference: Kay-Tee Khaw, How many, how old, how soon? BMJ 1999, volume 319, 1350-2.

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