New research reveals:

  • The number of  people over 50 with a serious illness is set to increase
  • The 60-64 age group has the highest percentage of people who are first diagnosed with a serious illness
  • There is a growing proportion of people aged 80+ suffering a serious illness but a declining prevalence among those in their 60s and 70s
  • Evidence of a large increase in the proportion of people aged 80+ having survived a heart attack
  • While the number of people with a serious illness will increase, the proportion may actually fall.
  • 2002 to 2013 saw falls in the proportion of people aged 50+ having heart attacks and strokes. But the decade has also witnessed increases in the proportion of older people with cancer.
  • 6 in 10 over 90s have none of the five major serious illnesses studied.

With demand for NHS services already under pressure, new analysis by the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK) and supported by Engage Mutual, the over-50s life cover specialists, predicts the NHS may have to support up to one million more older people with serious illnesses within the next ten years.

A new report, “Serious Illness in the Over 50s”, finds an estimated 2.6 million older people or one in eight of those aged 50+ (13.9%) were living with serious illness in England according to the analysis of the latest wave of the English Longitudinal Study on Ageing. ILC-UK predict this will increase to between 2.9 million and 3.4 million by 2025. The researchers forecast that across the UK nearly 3.1 million people were living with serious illness according to the data and that is set to potentially rise to between 3.4 million and 4 million by 2025.

Serious Illness in the Over 50s” has been published today by the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK), with the support of Engage Mutual – the only over 50s life cover provider to offer serious illness benefit as part of its over 50s life cover plan. The report uses data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and provides the first estimate for the overall prevalence of serious illness among older people in England and the UK.

The research also reveals that whilst the number of older people with a serious illness will increase, improvements in health may actually result in a fall in the proportion of older people suffering one of the five conditions explored. ELSA data suggests that the prevalence of serious illness among those aged 50+ has been slightly decreasing over time, from 15.8% in 2002 to 13.6% in 2012.

ILC-UK explains the trends by:

  • the overall proportion of older people reporting a cardiovascular event (heart attack or stroke) falling between 2002-2012
  • lower proportions of people in each age group from 50-79 experiencing heart attacks in 2012 compared to 2002

However, the report also highlights that the overall prevalence of older people living with cancer shows a notable upward trend from 2002 to 2012.

The research also points to growing numbers and proportions of older people living with a serious illness later in life. The prevalence of serious illness between 2002 to 2012 increased among those aged 80+, while declining dramatically for those in their 60s and 70s. The research also highlights a large increases in the proportion of people aged 80+ having survived a heart attack.

David Sinclair, Director of ILC-UK said “The research shows that even over a short period of time we have successfully reduced serious illness among older people.  But we must not be complacent. Our ageing society is going to put increasing pressure on the NHS over the next ten years. On the one hand, the research paints a picture of a potentially healthier older population aged under 70. A success story perhaps party attributed to effective preventative treatments such as statins. But it also paints a bleak picture of more people in their 90s suffering from serious illness. This research suggests that health interventions have helped us live healthier for longer. And it strengthens the case for continued investment in the prevention of ill health in old age.”

Engage Mutual’s Sales Director, Stuart Tragheim, added “As a customer owned mutual business and the only over 50s life cover provider to include a no charge serious illness option to customers, we wanted to work with ILC-UK to examine the extent of the issue, both now and in the years ahead. These findings underline just how important it is to have protection in place.”

The research, if anything, underestimates the extent of serious illness as individuals living in care homes are not available in the ELSA dataset and some serious illnesses may not be recorded. The research incorporates data on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, heart attack, and stroke.


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