Health services for older people in the NHS have developed pragmatically, and reflect the nature of disease in later life and the need to agree objectives of care with patients. Although services are likely to be able to cope with the immediate future, the growth of the elderly population anticipated from 2030 calls for long–term planning and research. The issue of funding requires immediate political thought and action. Scientifically the focus needs to be on maximizing the efficiency of services by health services research and reducing the incidence of disability in later life through research on its biological and social determinants. Senescence is a progressive loss of adaptability due to an interaction between intrinsic (genetic) processes with extrinsic factors in environment and lifestyle. There are grounds for postulating that a policy of postponement of the onset of disability, by modifications of lifestyle and environment, could reduce the average duration of disability before death. The new political structures of Europe offer underexploited–unexploited opportunities for the necessary research.