When we are young, the idea of ‘getting old’ is an unreal concept. It seems too far off to even contemplate. As we approach middle-age, the thought of entering our sixties and seventies — despite the alternative — fills some people with dread. Yet it needn’t. We are living longer than ever before, thanks to advances in medical science and increased awareness of diet, exercise and the things that are good and bad for us.

An ageing population

Statistics from the charity Age UK reveal that there are 10.8 million people aged 65 or over in the UK, and 1.4 million people aged 85 or over. As more of us live for longer, the proportion of people aged 65 and over is set to rise from 17.2 per cent currently to 22.4 per cent in 2032; while the number of over 85s in the UK will double in the next 20 years and nearly treble in the next 30. Nearly one in five of us will live to see our 100th birthday. Of course, there are still real issues confronting some senior people, such as poverty, poor housing and quality of life. Generally, though, there has never been a better time to reach pensionable age.

Living longer

However, the aim is not for us to simply live longer lives. It’s to live longer, healthier, more fulfilling, socially connected lives. Certainly, keeping fit and active is the key to a happy and fulfilling old age — and here again it seems that older people are keeping more active than ever before (although people aged 75-plus are much less likely to take minimum levels of physical activity).

Age UK reveals that during August-October 2012, there were 959,000 people aged 65 and over in employment; and that nearly 4.9 million people aged 65 and over in England take part in volunteering or civic engagement. That’s as it should be: older people have valuable life experience and lots to offer. Being socially connected, meanwhile, is important to all of us, whatever our age: no-one likes to feel isolated. For older people, it’s a crucial way to ward off loneliness.

Preparing for the future

Unfortunately, the fear of ageing does stop us confronting some hard facts. For instance, it’s easy to put off asking ‘what shall I do with my retirement?’ until your life changes and you are suddenly adrift and ultimately unprepared to deal with long periods of unstructured time. Similarly, people delay will writing and funeral planning. No point in tempting fate, they reason.

Yet, as this supplement reveals, it’s extremely important to write a will (and easy to include a charitable donation, should you wish); while funeral planning can ease the administrative burden on the grieving loved ones you leave behind. None of us like to think about the care we may need in later life, either: we want to live independently for as long as we can. But sometimes life has other plans and thinking ahead can be a huge benefit if you do develop health issues.

Should you investigate home care? Or consider a care home? And if so, how do you choose the right one for your needs? In the following pages, we’ll be investigating all these subjects and more — and discover that confronting them makes them much less frightening.