Living ever longer without physical limitations

19/03/2018 15:30
By the year 2040, people will not only enjoy a longer life expectancy at the age of 60 than the current generation of 60-year-olds; they can also expect to live longer in good health and without physical limitations, provided health trends and death rate developments of the past 35 years continue. This is shown in the latest projections of future healthy life expectancy by Statistics Netherlands (CBS).

According to last year’s projection by Statistics Netherlands (CBS), in 2040 the remaining life expectancy of 60-year-olds will have increased by around three years relative to the period 2013-2016. Future 60-year-old male life expectancy will amount to 26 years, against almost 29 years for female life expectancy.

More disability-free years

Ageing often goes hand in hand with physical limitations in hearing, vision or movement, which cannot be overcome with medical devices. On average, women start suffering from physical disabilities at a younger age than men. Since women generally live longer than men, they spend a greater proportion of their lives dealing with physical limitations. In the period 2013-2016, the number of years during which women aged 60 could expect to live without moderate to severe physical limitations was nearly 17 out of the 26 remaining years; for men, this was 18 out of the 23 remaining years on average.

The health status of the Dutch population has improved since the 1980s and mortality rates have declined. If these trends continue, life expectancy without moderate to severe physical limitations will increase by over 4 years for both men and women compared to the period 2013-2016. This is about one year longer than total life expectancy. Not only will the elderly of 2040 enjoy a longer life expectancy, they will also spend a greater proportion of these years disability-free.

These are only average rates; currently, one in five women and one in seven men already suffer from physical limitations by the time they reach the age of 60. Part of them will continue to live with these limitations for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, there is also a group of elderly who will remain disability-free up to their death. These health gaps are related to differences in socio-economic realities. Higher educated 60-year-olds have an additional average of six years to live without physical limitations compared to their lower-educated peers, while their lifespan is three years longer on average.

Health status perceived as good for longer

People tend to feel less healthy as they grow older. Physical limitations may possibly come into play, although not necessarily. The remaining life expectancy in good self-perceived health for a 60-year-old man is currently three years shorter than life expectancy without physical limitations, while for 60-year-old women it is shorter by slightly over one year. Life expectancy in good self-perceived health was 15 years for 60-year-old women against 14 (out of the remaining 23) years for 60-year-old men.
If current trends continue, the remaining life expectancy in good perceived health will increase by almost three years for men and just under two years for women by 2040. According to the forecast, although the elderly are expected to continue feeling healthy for a longer period of time, they will also live longer in relatively poorer health than the current generation of elderly people.