In 2014, 17.6% of the population were aged 65 or older (Office for National Statistics [ONS] Ageing of the UK population: part of the population estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, mid-2014 Release, 2015). By 2035, this is estimated to rise to almost 1 in 4 (23%; ONS Health expectancies at birth and at age 65 in the United Kingdom, 2008 to 2010).

The number of people aged 85 and older has risen the fastest. In 1985, nearly 1.2% of the population was 85 or older. By 2014, this had increased to 2.3% ('Ageing of the UK population: part of the population estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Mid-2014 Release'). By 2035, the number is expected to reach 3.5 million and account for 5% of the population (ONS Population ageing in the United Kingdom, its constituent countries and the European Union).

Older people may experience an age-related disability. For example, 71% of people aged 70 and over have hearing loss (Royal National Institute for Deaf People [RNID] Hearing matters). One in 5 people aged 75 and older and 1 in 2 aged 90 and older have sight loss (Royal National Institute of Blind People [RNIB] Sight loss statistics postcard).

Older people are at higher risk of developing chronic health conditions such as diabetes or osteoarthritis (painful and stiff joints). In addition, depression affects 1 in 5 adults aged over 65 living in the community (Mental Health Foundation Mental health statistics: older people).

Loneliness affects 1 million older people (Campaign to End Loneliness Safeguarding the convoy). Loneliness is linked to the onset of dementia (Holwerda et al. 2012) and is associated with depression. It increases as people become less able to undertake routine activities. People who are lonely or isolated are more likely to be admitted to residential or nursing care (Social Care Institute for Excellence [SCIE] Research briefing 39: Preventing loneliness and social isolation: interventions and outcomes).

Many older people play an active role in society. For example, 65% of volunteers in the UK are aged 50 or older (Local Government Association handbook on ageing well: an asset based approach).

Improving the mental wellbeing of older people and helping them to retain their independence can benefit families, communities and society as a whole. Helping those at risk of poor mental wellbeing or losing their independence may also reduce, delay or avoid their use of health and social care services.