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

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 (Population ageing in the United Kingdom, its constituent countries and the European Union Office for National Statistics).

Older people may experience an age‑related disability. For example, 71% of people aged 70 and over have hearing loss (Hearing matters Action on Hearing Loss). One in 5 people aged 75 and older and 1 in 2 aged 90 and older have sight loss (Sight loss statistics postcard RNIB).

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 statistics: older people Mental Health Foundation).

Loneliness affects 1 million older people (Safeguarding the convoy Campaign to End Loneliness). Loneliness is linked to the onset of dementia (Feelings of loneliness, but not social isolation, predict dementia onset: results from the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly Holwerda et al.) 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 (SCIE Research briefing 39: Preventing loneliness and social isolation: interventions and outcomes Social Care Institute for Excellence).

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

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.

You can also see this guideline in the NICE pathway on mental wellbeing and independence in older people.

To find out what NICE has said on topics related to this guideline see our web pages on topics relevant for older people: for example, care homes, community engagement, depression, homes and older people.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)