The rise of the 4th Generation


Photo by Susie Rea

People aged over 85 are the fastest growing age-group in our population. What was formerly a small group of exceptional individuals is rapidly becoming a whole new generation. Our longevity is to be celebrated, but we are concerned that people making key decisions concerning the welfare needs of those aged over 85 know relatively little about what is unique, or indeed not unique, about this group. 

We are interested in finding out as much as we can about our oldest citizens.


opens link in new window Read more facts and statistics about this age group

Much has been made in the media about fears of the negative effects this oncoming ‘tidal wave’ may have on our health and social care systems. People 85+ make up the majority of those in residential care, and are key users of health services.

We want to find out the truth about these people, not only their needs but also their contributions to all facets of society.

opens link in new window Read about people's lives in this age group...

We asked experts to summarise what’s known in their area of research about this ‘4th generation’ and set out their advice. We’ve collected these summaries into a readable, informative book, ‘Improving later life: Understanding the Oldest Old.’

The book presents messages for professional audiences about what we need to know and do In relation to the oldest old, based on latest research evidence.  It’s a ‘must-read’ for  anyone who works with or on behalf of the oldest old, including civil servants, national politicians, local councillors, GPs, nurses, care home managers and workers, social workers, carers and care workers, charities. . . the list could go on.

Key messages from the experts

Among the messages emerging from the research conducted by the leading experts, several key points have emerged that all professionals making decisions about the oldest old should know:

  • Life is not over once you hit 85. In fact, most people over this age are rather independent, feel that their health is good, enjoy a good quality of life, and have more than a few years of life left.
  • People get more diverse the older they get.
  • Assumptions based on the younger old can be totally inappropriate for the oldest old.
  • No matter what chronological age a person is, it is still worth treating health problems.

opens link in new window Download 'Improving Later Life: Understanding the oldest old (PDF, 1MB)

Listen to Martyn Lewis interview some of our authors about this work for Age UK's Wireless radio.

Listen to Brenda, James, and Eve talk about life as a 'super senior':

Brenda: Computers and the internet

James: What my life is like

Eve: Advice for retirement

opens link in new window Listen to more...

Related articles by experts:

Dr Pritti Mehta - Action on Hearing Loss 

opens link in new window Addressing hearing loss

Professor Sheila Payne - Lancaster University 

opens link in new window The lure of dying at home

Dr Jane Fleming, Dr Caroline Lee, and Professor Carol Brayne - Cambridge University 

opens link in new window The critical importance of population research


Age UK Charity Director Michelle Mitchell's presentation for the New Dynamics of Ageing event, opens link in new window 'Improving Later Life, Understanding the Oldest Old,' 11 March 2013

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Age UK later life facts and stats

  • These collections of statistics, which are regularly updated, are the most up-to-date sources of publicly available, general information on people in later life in the UK.


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