The future of population aging in industrialised countries, including Canada, will be driven not by lower fertility but by extensions in life expectancy. Declining mortality will have the most effect on the oldest age groups.

In this context, Peter Laslett’s (1989) ideas on rethinking traditional approaches to the life cycle are fundamental. He argues that we need to move from three stages of life to four: childhood; adulthood; then the new third age lasting from retirement until old age, which becomes the fourth age (or the oldest-old).

This report examines the present and future characteristics of the oldest old, and the public policies needed to ensure their well-being. The Canadians in this oldest age group are a distinct population, which will come to represent an increasingly important component of the population. This new demographic reality needs to be taken into consideration in designing structures that will meet the associated challenges.

The arrival, rapid and in large numbers, of Baby Boomers into these advanced ages will generate new dynamics in the society that need to be studied. Given the changes in behaviours and the health status of the oldest people today, it is vitally important to continue to design policies that take into account the characteristics of the aged in the populations of today and of tomorrow. Key is to continue to develop policies which will enable older people to remain independent for as long as possible, and to base policies on the degree of independence rather than simple age thresholds. The promotion of healthy and positive attitudes towards older people will also contribute to good relations among generations.