"New" ageing populations: An emerging arena in the interface between ageing and health
Institute of Gerontology King's College London London, UK
Division of Research Strategy University College London London, UK
There has been considerable interest in the impact of ageing populations and increasing longevity on both developed and developing societies. While these impacts have mainly been studied in demographic and epidemiological terms, changes in the social contexts in which health interventions are delivered have also enabled many people to live a healthier later life than was possible just a few decades ago. This has brought into existence what could be termed "new" ageing populations, whereby those born with serious health conditions who did not previously survive to early adulthood, alongside those developing previously life-limiting conditions in early or mid-life, are now routinely reaching mid- to late-adult life. The numbers of individuals in these groups are growing in terms of the types of conditions involved, the numbers becoming adults and the length of their lives. These developments have occurred through the intended, as well as unintended, consequences of biomedical intervention as well as being responses to social change. While these developments have enabled longer life spans for those with these conditions and have led to many improvements in the quality of life of these groups, the shift into older age means that new primary disorder-related conditions are being clinically recognised and treated only when a new age milestone has been reached for a significant number of that group.
In this paper we explore how biomedicine, technology and social change have led to the emergence of "new" ageing populations whose circumstances open up a new field of study of the experience of "ageing" with a "life-limiting" illness or disability. These populations are rapidly going beyond the conventional understandings of conditions used by health and social care practitioners, but equally they are exceeding the knowledge base of sociology and gerontology. We use cystic fibrosis, thalidomide impairment and Down´s syndrome as exemplars of this process, although many other "new" populations exist. What we hope to outline is the importance to medical sociology of these ?new ageing populations? for the continued relevance of the sub-discipline.