Older people: introduction

Ageing population

Scotland’s population is ageing and current projections suggest there will be a large increase in the population aged 60 years and over by 2033. Figures for those aged 75 years and over show an even greater projected increase (see Demographic Change in Scotland). Consequently, Scotland's dependency ratio (the ratio of people not of working age to those of working age) is projected to increase substantially by 2033 (see Demographic Change in Scotland).

One implication of an ageing population is likely to be a decline in the proportion of the population who self-assess their health as good or very good. The proportion living with a long-standing illness, health problem or disability also increases with age (see our Disability: limiting long-term health conditions and illness page). However, healthy life expectancy increased for both males and females between 1980 and 2008 (see our Healthy life expectancy: Scotland page).


The ageing population means more people are living longer with long-term limiting illness and need to be cared for. The burden on carers, who are themselves ageing, is known to be rising (see Caring in Scotland (645Kb)). A wide variety of data relating to the provision of care in Scotland, including trends in the provision of respite care, are available from the Scottish Government's Community Care and Older People pages.


Older people may have mobility issues related to physical frailty (including from rheumatoid and osteoarthritis), sight loss, loss of a partner who can drive, or lack of access to a car.  The Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland (MACS) works to provide advice on the planning and regulation of transport facilities to ensure that they are accessible for those with a mobility problem.


Physical and social isolation may be related to mobility, for example falls can cause loss of confidence which may affect older people’s independence (see AgeUK's Lonliness and Isolation Evidence Review and At home with Scotland's older people (4.6Mb)). Isolation may be related to residential location, whether rural or urban, and availability of transport networks. Isolation may also result from cultural factors such as older people’s ‘invisibility’ to younger people. Isolation can be related to retirement, which may remove people from the day to day contacts of the working world and can result in lower income making participation in some social activities difficult.


At retirement the majority of people will experience a sharp drop in disposable income and, during retirement, inflation may eat away at their income. Sixty percent of single pensioner households in Scotland in 2009/10 lived on an annual income of £15,000 or less (see At home with Scotland's older people (4.6Mb)). This has implications for many of the topics listed above and older people may no longer be able to live independently because they cannot fund the support they need. Even if state care is provided at home older people may feel they have lost control over their house and their life, almost as much as if they were in a care home.

In Scotland the numbers receiving free personal care have risen over the past few years (see the Scottish Government's Community Care and Older People pages.