Unready for ageing

Although there is nothing new in the House of Lord’s “Ready for Ageing” report published yesterday, it is a useful summary of the issues which our society now faces in relation to changing demographics. And, as the report highlights, it is not just society’s problem, or the government’s, but one about which we must all take greater personal responsibility.

The report recommends, amongst much else, that the 2015 government establishes two Commissions – one to consider the financial aspects of our ageing population and the other to focus on health and social care. However, having pointed out elsewhere in the report that employer and societal attitudes – and lack of flexibility – continue to impact older people’s ability to work longer, I believe there should also be a third Commission to focus urgently on this aspect.

We need a change in attitudes overall to ensure that older people aren’t seen as dependent, needy and a liability but are recognised for what the majority are – active, contributing citizens. Let’s hope that this report leads to action – and isn’t just yesterday’s news.

The report can be downloaded here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldpublic/140/140.pdf 

It can also be browsed here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldpublic/140/14002.htm

Ageing workforce starts to impact UK businesses

According to Aviva’s recent annual Health of the Workplace report* UK companies are now starting to see a change in their workforce demographics with 29% of employers in their survey reporting a rise in the average age of their employees. Alongside this, 37% expect to see their workforce get older in the future.

Although half of employers believe there are positive benefits for individuals working past the traditional retirement age, 38 per cent predict that health issues associated with an ageing workforce will impact their business.

As a result, 29 per cent  of employers said they would need to offer different health advice while over a third (36 per cent) realised they may need to introduce flexible working hours for older employees.

The report also reveals – based on interviews with older workers – that employees’ requirements change with age and, as a result, so do the benefits that they value. Over a third of employees over 55 said that having access to benefits such as private medical insurance could help them stay healthy, compared to a fifth of 25-34 year-old employees.

The report is interesting and valuable in respect of the confirmation it provides that working longer is now starting to be recognised as a practical and immediate concern in the workplace rather than the somewhat theoretical issue that it has been until now.

Our prediction has long been that workplace policies and practices – and attitudes – would only change and improve when employers and employees find themselves surrounded by increasing numbers of older faces. Let’s hope this is starting now.

*Aviva’s Health of the Workplace report is an annual research study of 1,000 UK employers and 1,000 employees. The research was conducted by independent research company One Poll in August 2012.

Do those who retire early live longer?

Should we aim to retire as early as we can or keep working for as long as possible if we want to live a long time? In addressing this question this article on the BBC news site busts some myths and shows how, if we read or hear something often enough, we will believe it is true.

The overwhelming message that emerges from this article is that there is no one single answer – for example some people get stressed by their work and would benefit from stopping whereas some go into decline and become stressed and despondent when they retire and have no work. Personality, personal circumstances (including finances), health, occupation, work environment and out-of-work relationships and interests must all be factored into the mix.

So let’s stop trying to provide a single answer for questions such as this, recognize yet again that you cannot lump all older people together, and satisfy ourselves with understanding that “It all depends…” 


Choice and consequences in the fight for a healthy old age

Constantly we read sweeping and often misleading generalizations in the press about today’s over 50s. Take these two articles which appeared in one recent issue of the Daily Mail:

First was a story about the development of a new ‘polypill’ which Professor Sir Nicholas Wald of the University of London maintains should be given to all over-50s to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Tests showed that taking the tablet every day for 12 weeks gives those in their  fifties, sixties and seventies the blood pressure and cholesterol  levels of twentysomethings.

The proposal is that we should all be taking it. ‘It is specifically designed for healthy people to keep them healthy,’ the professor commented. ‘It is like taking anti-malarials if you are going to Africa – you take them in order to reduce your chance of contracting the disease.’

The second story focused on the rise of eating disorders in older women which apparently have increased by 42 per cent in the past 11 years — leading to all kinds of health problems such as osteoporosis, heart, liver, digestive and gastro-intestinal problems, not to mention depression. Surprisingly, women over 50 — average age 69 — comprise 78 per cent of all deaths from anorexia.

So, on one hand we are all thought to be eating and lazing our way to disaster and in need of mass preventative treatments that will keep us physically as young as in our twenties, and on the other we – women at least – are being criticized for wanting to counteract the signs of ageing and being told to resign ourselves to the inevitable: “our mothers at [this] age would have slipped into a skirt with an elasticated waist and indulged in another cake,” the journalist comments.

While the author of this piece maintained that a desire to emulate impossibly beautiful women celebrities has led to a new anxiety and discontent in older women, I don’t think it’s that simple.
One of the biggest challenges for us all today as we age is that we have unprecedented amounts of choice.  And exercising that choice and making those decisions about what we want and need and have to do is hard.

Should we choose to take the easy option and decide that polypill protection is an easier path than living a healthy lifestyle?  And should we, men and women, choose to disregard aspirational role models that perhaps in earlier years encouraged us to up our game and slump into invisible comfort rather than taking a robust stance against some of the unwelcome signs of ageing such as grey hair, increased weight and lack of flexibility?

As a nation of elders it’s surely time we grew up, got a grip and took greater responsibility for ourselves and our futures – physical, financial and emotional – so that attitudes such as this become irrelevant.

Yes, we’re ageing, and yes it isn’t always all great,  but aren’t we lucky to be alive for longer to enjoy it?

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2175493/Polypills-Why-50s-offered-slash-risk-strokes-heart-attacks.html#ixzz213UC4fPX


Is the recession good news for longevity-related issues?

On Monday evening I attended A British Library and Strategic Society Centre joint debate (at the British Library) entitled “Keep Calm and Carry On? Policy, Psychology and the Effects of ‘Economic War’”

The interesting but rather eclectic session examined the psychological effects of economic uncertainty and how policymakers should respond.

However, although this was not its intention, what it highlighted quite starkly is how today’s global economic crisis and the pending “longevity tsunami” have now come together in a perfect storm.

It is easy to imagine that were it not for the recent job cuts, intergenerational competition for employment and reduced incomes plus other economic pressures leading many people to have to work longer, the real issues surrounding longevity could have remained buried or blurred for an even longer period than they already have done.

As a society we have known about many of the impending implications of the new longevity for a long time and failed to address them adequately. Perhaps the recession is a good thing in now bringing them sharply into focus?

Any views welcomed on this…

You may also be interested in a forthcoming debate at the British Library entitled “Growing old: Something to Fear or Celebrate?” For more details click below.




How can we discuss ageing and retirement without a meaningful vocabulary?

I have often said that we need a new vocabulary to adequately describe the current changes that are affecting our lives in terms of longevity and extended working lives. This was accentuated last week at two events I attended on two consecutive days on the topic of retirement, health and well-being.  The first, at TAEN addressed the question Does Retirement Damage your Health?  while the second, an ESRC seminar in the excellent Re-thinking Retirement series, considered Activity, Unpaid Work and Active Ageing.

Both seminars were informative and thought-provoking, addressing a number of topics such as identity, job quality, the meaning of productive activity, motivation to work, subjective assessments of well-being and the role of continuous learning. However, at two levels, both also were ultimately frustrating.  First, insufficient attention was paid to addressing the range of objective and subjective experiences relating to retirement today, such that the first seminar really should have been entitled Does Working Longer Damage your Health?   Second, a failure to clearly define “older people” meant that the experiences of those within the fifty year age span of “older” were presented as if the factors relevant to the young old and those of significance to the elderly scarcely require distinguishing.

At every level and in every forum addressing these two issues, correctly defining who and what is under examination is essential.  Unlike birth or death “retirement” is not an unconditional experience. It has now become so varied in form and duration that in much the same way as the Inuit people have many words for snow, we too need a range of new labels to accurately represent different types of retirement and extending working. 

We also need absolute clarity about who we are referring to if we are to not to end up with unhelpful generalizations and irrelevant stereotypes.  Although chronological age is not a useful marker (a fit and active ninety year old may be more active than an unhealthy and sedentary sixty year old), we nevertheless need clear differentiation in terms of nomenclature between those who are arguably still enjoying their most active and powerful years, and those who are in decline and in need of support.

Another seminar at the ILC later this week Changing the Perception of Retirement will no doubt add some further interesting insights, contributing to changing people’s behaviours towards work and retirement.  It bodes especially well that in the seminar outline older people are described as “a very heterogeneous group”.





Primetastic! – 50 tips for life when you’re over 50: Kindle edition now out








Well enough to work?

An interesting session was hosted in London on Tuesday by the International Longevity Centre (ILC): Older workers, health and employment. While nothing overwhelmingly new came out of it, the keynote speech by Dame Carol Black in particular on trends in the health of older workers nevertheless created an impact.

Although, as she pointed out, one in four of us born today can expect to live to 100, the factors mitigating that in terms of our own poor health are startling. As the fourth fattest nation in the world we are facing a situation where 40% of all UK adults will be obese by 2025 and three quarters of the population will be too ill to work to the projected retirement age of 68.

Her presentation clearly underlined Abraham Lincoln’s point that “It’s not the years in your life that count but the life in your years”. The spectre of so many of us living longer in ill health and disability is an appalling prospect at every level – individual, societal and economic – and tantamount to a total disaster.

In the main the session focused on what employers can or could do to help the situation through health and wellbeing programmes and what these might encompass. Little mention was given of individual responsibility and how, rather ironically in light of this topic, you can lead a horse to water…

Realistically lack of knowledge about lifestyle habits and their effects generally isn’t the problem, and neither is lack of employer support. What is the problem is lack of motivation, good role models and a realistic understanding of the consequences of our actions (or inaction).

If those of us “in the know” in the ageing arena can be startled by such figures, surely a well-produced TV documentary series would have considerable impact on the man (and woman) in the street?

Things in life that just don’t add up – no. 619

As we all face the likelihood of living longer we are exhorted to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to ensure that any extra years of life can be enjoyed in good health while reducing the burden on state care. Employers too are encouraged to offer health and wellness programmes for all.

However in direct opposition to this is the fact that large numbers of retired people are entitled to a higher income in their retirement if they have underlying health conditions which would qualify them for an enhanced annuity.  Qualifying conditions for an enhanced annuity include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes – all of which are, to some extent, preventable, lifestyle-related ailments.

A new press release issued by MGM Advantage, a specialist in retirement income, contains the following comment from their Sales and Marketing Director: “It is an unfortunate fact of life that as we get older, we are more at risk of getting underlying health conditions. Those buying an annuity should have a health check and be sure to inform their annuity provider of any health conditions to see if they qualify for an enhanced annuity. The difference between a standard and an enhanced annuity can be significant and would make a real difference, particularly when the cost of living is squeezing finances.”

So sod the salad and gym. Hunker down in front of the TV and have another pint and pie…



Fit and over fifty

“Reducing working-age ill-health could save the UK up to £100 billion every year’. That was the government’s conclusion published at the end of last year in its white paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People. The paper went on to say that improving wellbeing in adults could reduce premature death and illness and eradicate a substantial proportion of cancers, vascular dementias and circulatory diseases.

Back in 2008 Dame Carol Black’s report, Working for a Healthier Tomorrow encouraged employers to take greater responsibility for the welfare of their workers, with the words “good health is good business”.

By all accounts, and perhaps rather predictably in these recessionary times, progress since then is reported as having been somewhat slow. To counter this, some interesting findings have emerged recently indicating that a surprising number of over fifties say they feel fitter and healthier than they did in early adulthood.

In a study of 1,500 over fifties conducted by insurance company Engage Mutual, 17 per cent stated that when it comes to health and fitness, they feel better than they did in their twenties. And over 70 per cent of ‘fit over fifties’ claim they now do more exercise and pay more attention to their diet.

67 per cent attributed their new found motivation to increase levels of fitness to a raised awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

The research indicates that the ‘fit over fifties’ eat far more fruit and vegetables now than they did in their early years. Only a fifth of them would have made sure they were having their recommended five portions a day 30 years ago – compared to an impressive 75 per cent today.

And of the people who feel fitter than in their twenties, the average exercise levels approach four times a week and include walking, swimming, cycling or attending fitness classes. Reasons for doing more exercise now? 29 per cent claimed they want to be fit and energetic for the sake of the grandchildren; 37 per cent are looking forward to an active and enjoyable retirement; and 23 per cent say exercise now makes up an important part of their social life. 

If this is to be believed (and no reason why not) it sounds as if older workers, having seen the light themselves, should be considered for the  role of wellbeing mentors in the workplace encouraging and supporting their younger colleagues to follow their example and look after their health.

Improving wellbeing … one step at a time

We received some interesting information from the breast cancer charity Walk the Walk in a press release promoting their forthcoming SunWalk in Battersea Park London, on Sunday on 24th July.


  • Mile for mile Power Walkers walking at a minimum pace of 4 miles an hour use the same amount of energy as runners
  • Experts have been quoted as saying ‘Walking is the nearest thing to the perfect form of exercise”
  • Walking at least 45 minutes 4 times a week at pace, you could lose up  to 18lbs in a year without changing your diet

Sounds just the thing for any older person faced with the challenge of losing a few pounds and retaining, or regaining, fitness.

Details of the event can be found at www.walkthewalk.org.

Even if you aren’t able or don’t want to participate, it’s a great reminder of the value of propelling yourself out of the door on a regular basis (no special preparation or equipment required) in the fight to lose a few pounds and fend off decline.

Out for a stroll

Cheering news that a seventy-two-year-old woman, Frances Tennant, has recently completed the 1,200-mile trek from Land’s End in Cornwall to John O’Groats in Scotland, making her the oldest female ever to be officially recorded as having walked the length of Britain.

Once she had finished the walk, she even found enough energy to climb theUK’s highest mountain,Ben Nevis, on her way back home.

Mrs Tennant, who has completed the Great North Run 18 times, was accompanied by her friend Rupert Booth, who at 60 is himself a pretty impressive performer.  The pair achieved an average of 17 miles a day, taking about three months to complete the walk. Initially they had intended to do it purely for fun, but then decided to make it a charity trek raising money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

At the end of her journey Mrs Tennant was reported as saying “We had an absolutely fantastic time. It has been wonderful”.

On days when all we seem to hear about is the bad news side of ageing – pension problems, care costs, Alzheimer’s, and worse – it’s great to have such a good news story. Everyone over 50 should be encouraged to print it off and stick it on the fridge door as a constant reminder of what is possible in later life and the joy that can come from realizing one’s dreams and ambitions.