Life expectancy in Leeds has increased by two years in the last decade alone. In the third of a series of special features Sam Casey examines the health implications of our ageing population.
BOYS born in Leeds in 1901 could expect to live to the age of just 45, girls to 49.
By 2009, those figures had risen to 78 and 82 respectively.
In the last ten years alone, life expectancy in Leeds has increased by two years for both men and women
A man aged 65 in the city today can expect to live on average for another 16 years, a woman of the same age for another 19.
The number of over 85s has risen 15 per cent since 2001.
Viewed through the prism of health, the fact that Leeds’s population is ageing can be seen in two ways.
On the one hand, it is a marker of success for public health policies and socio-economic development.
While on the other it means increasing pressure on the city’s services as they struggle to cope under growing financial constraints.
Coun Linda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s executive member for adult health and social care, admitted the authorities had yet to adapt.
She said: “It’s a positive thing that people are living longer and that medical advances have been made, but it does give local authorities a challenge and that’s not just the case in Leeds. “I don’t think as a nation we have come to terms with how financially we are going to deal with that – and it has to be done nationally, particularly as we are living in an age of cuts in budgets.”
While people are living longer, they are more likely to live longer with health problems.
The average number of years an over-65 in Leeds will live with a disability has risen, to eight-and-a-half years for men and nearly 11 for women.
Currently there are 56,779 over-65s in Leeds living with a limiting, long-term illness. Nearly 24,000 of those live alone.
The Department of Health estimates there are 9,740 with depression, 3,102 with severe depression, and more than 8,000 with dementia – predicted to rise by about 25 per cent in the next 10 years.
About 42 per cent of hospital admissions in Leeds last December and January were people over 65.
As early as 2005 research concluded the situation would place a huge strain on the NHS.
It was predicted that by 2031 the number of cases of coronary heart disease would increase by 44 per cent, with hospital admission rising by a third.
But there are services in Leeds that are working to reduce the public cost.
Dawn Bailey, healthy living manager for NHS Leeds, said: “With the increase in population size of older people, there will be an impact on services and services will need to respond and I think they are beginning to do that.”
Ayeesha Lewis is health improvement specialist for older people with NHS Leeds.
She co-ordinates Extend fitness classes, a series of about 50 gentle exercise classes that take place across the city for over-60s.
She said: “In these times when there are a lot of cuts, we need to see the benefit of this type of scheme.
“In the grand scheme of things it’s not a lot of money. You might be paying £15,000 a year for five or six Extend classes, but the money saved by preventing people from falling and breaking their hips and going into hospital is much higher.”
Moira Buck, 74, from Meanwood, recovered quickly from a broken ankle with the help of the Extend class in Horsforth.
She said: “When the plaster came off I didn’t have to do any physio therapy because I’d been coming to these classes.”
In Harehills, mental health charity Touchstone in partnership with Leeds Memory Service and others runs a dementia café, giving members of the south Asian community who have dementia, and their carers, a chance to come together to socialise.
Community development worker Hafizur Hussain said about 15 to 20 people attended the monthly sessions.
“It’s a safe comfortable environment where they can get together for a cuppa and a chat,” he said.
“The majority of people have been experiencing memory issues and it’s a one-stop service where people can come for information and advice as well as a social gathering.
“There was nothing like this for this community, so it’s unique.”
Aazia Shah, community psychiatric nurse for Leeds Partnerships NHS Foundation Trust added: “Mental health problems in this community are taboo and it’s not the norm to ask for help.”
Home improvement agency Care and Repair, based in Harehills, carries out alterations to the homes of older people and disabled people to enable them to live independently.
Director Bill Rollinson said: “Apart from the health benefits to that individual, if someone falls and breaks their hip it costs about £25,000 to have their treatment and get back home.
“Our services cost about £150 per person.
“Plus they’re not clogging up beds or going into residential care.
“I went a few years ago to St James’s Hospital.
“If you were there and had your treatment but couldn’t go home, it cost the NHS an estimated £350 a day.
“In terms of relative costs, it’s a no brainer.”
In south Leeds, two GPs’ surgeries have linked up with the charity Age UK in an initiative to combat depression among older people.
The Whitfield Practice at Hunslet Health Centre and City View Medical Practice in Beeston are taking part in the Down But Not Out scheme, through which GPs refer patients to the charity for counselling and support services.
The statistics support the need for such an initiative – the Department of Health estimates there are 9,740 over-65s in Leeds with depression, 3102 with severe depression. Older people have the highest suicide rate for women and the second highest for men of any age group.
Dr Maya Mallya, from the Whitfield Practice, said up to 80 per cent of her patients had depression in some form.
“It may be that they have a physical problem like back pain or arthritis that masks the fact that they have depression, she said.
“Their physical illnesses impact on their ability to go out and socialise, which makes them feel more isolated and more depressed.”