Rising life expectancy could mean older people having to endure more years of ill health at the end of their lives, say peers.
Many elderly people are in fragile health
A House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report says more must be done to make older people healthier and to improve their quality of life.
It calls on the government to apply scientific resources to improve health in old age.
And says the elderly must be helped to live longer in their own homes.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, who chaired the inquiry, said: "At a time when people are living longer, their last years should be years of good health and active engagement in society.
"Instead, older people believe their last years are increasingly a time of ill health and isolation.
"The government should do much more to support ageing-related research and to promote its application."
The committee said simple measures could make a big difference.
For instance, locating scanners in A&E departments could reduce death and disability from strokes.
At present less than half of patients have a brain scan within two days.
Better use of funds
The report found NHS targets are vague, and that resources are spent to meet treatment targets, when they might be more effectively spent on prevention strategies.
It calls for investment in technologies which allow people to monitor health in their own homes.
It also calls for action on social and economic factors, which it says greatly influence the rate of ageing.
For instance, older people often die of diseases caused by cold and damp.
The government has said it aims to eliminate fuel poverty by 2010 but the report says that without more resources it will miss this target.
It also criticises the government's failure to implement a review of housing standards.
Transport and communication must be planned with an ageing population in mind to guard against social isolation, the report says.
It also calls for funding to promote exercise and healthy eating.
Dr James Goodwin, head of research at Help the Aged, said "For the first time in history, the number of people aged over 65 in the UK exceeds those under 16.
"Quite simply, we are sitting on a demographic time bomb. We are completely unprepared for the fact that our baby boomer generation will sooner rather than later be hitting their 70s and 80s.
"If we don't place more resources into ageing research now we will be unable to cope with the implications of age-related disease, dependence and frailty in 20 years time."
Dr Goodwin expressed disappointment that the inquiry did not recommended setting up a National Institute on Ageing to centrally coordinate ageing research in the UK