Senior life: looking to the future
Senior years The number of older people in the world is growing at an astonishing rate and expected to reach over 2 billion by 2050.
Some of the biggest numbers of older people can be found in developing countries. Closer to home though, recent statistics show there are now 11 million people aged 65 or over in the UK, and 3 million are aged 80 or over, so there is no denying that overall we are living longer and healthier lives, thanks mainly to the advances in medicine and healthier diets.
But as we grow older we all face new challenges that can put up barriers to leading fulfilling, independent later lives. Whether it be illness, loneliness or poverty which affect people, those in later life still have the right to laugh, love and be needed. It’s important that they have the opportunity to stay independent and to continue doing the things they love.
Long-standing stereotypes about older people are no longer really relevant as many older people enjoy later life feeling fitter, more active and more empowered than ever before. Retirement is no longer necessarily a barrier to enjoying the best of what life has to offer. These days, retirement is a new beginning and some older people are volunteering, joining social groups, mentoring, fundraising, home visiting and making a huge difference at all levels in their communities, while others are opting to continue working longer.
For some however life is not quite so rosy and some of the challenges to ageing will be explored further in this supplement. Although fewer older people are poor than in the past, poverty remains a huge problem for a significant minority. That people have enough money from state and private resources to live comfortably and participate fully in society in later life is essential. It’s also important that older people can access high quality health and social care.
There are 1.2 million people in England aged 65 and over who are providing unpaid care to a disabled, seriously ill or older relative or friend. Many of them struggle to cope with the demands of juggling the needs of their loved ones they care for with their own needs.
Every older person should be able to live safely and with dignity in good quality, warm housing that meets their individual needs, free from exploitation or abuse. Where people live goes a long way to determining how healthy, independent and active they can be. Too many older people are living in poor-quality, cold homes which are hazardous to their health and are struggling to adapt their homes because of the hassle and cost.
A recent Guardian columnist spoke reverentially of our new older generation: “We have an ageing population of radicals redefining what is possible as we grow older. They are passionate, worldly people who are as politically fiery as ever - the anti-nuclear activists, the equality and justice protesters, the union members, the travellers, the first generation to kick back against the unspoken requirement to marry and put up and shut up. They are good at making friends and interested in the world. None of that changes just because they’re older.”
And with that in mind, it’s now more possible than ever to reconfigure what it really means to be an older person in 2015. By tackling the challenges mentioned above, we have the ability to change life for older people for the better. We need to campaign and influence policy makers so that getting older doesn’t need to be something to be fearful of. In fact it could be something to get excited about and celebrate. Let us embrace senior living.