Ageing: The opportunist’s perspective
post by Samantha Meynell
Ageing is one of the only life processes which is inevitable. Some people fear old age; some people embrace it. But with the rate of ageing increasing, should we be concerned? With issues such as a rise in pension costs and inadequate health and social care provision for the elderly, it seems that this rapid rate of ageing is nothing but problematic – or is it?
Population ageing is currently at its fastest ever rate. In the UK alone, the proportion of people aged 65 and over in 2000 was 16%, compared to just 5% in 1990. The respective figures for the population worldwide are 7% and 1%. In fact, it’s estimated that by 2050, 20% of the global population will be over 65 years of age (Phillipson 2013, 12). Why is this a problem? First of all, the UK government is in no way prepared to deal with the colossal amount of over 65s, given the current NHS crisis. It’s not surprising that there is a correlation between old age and ill health but given the recent cuts to NHS resources and funding, this puts our older generation in danger. In fact, it’s estimated that within the next couple of years, around one thousand elderly people will be admitted to hospital due to having a fall per day. If the NHS is struggling now, it seems there is no way it will be able to see to this many additional patients on a daily basis. And if the age of the population continues to increase at the rate it is, there will be an even bigger demand for the NHS’ resources when elderly people fall ill. If the government continues to make more drastic cuts to our health services, they will have the negligence of the elderly on their conscience.
One way in which the elderly may become frail and of ill health is due to lack of mobility. According to research conducted by Age UK, around half a million people over 65 in the UK live alone and spend each day living in complete solitude. This suggests that if these people are isolated, they’re not getting out much either. The more time elderly people stay inside the house, the more their health and mobility will deteriorate, and when people are less mobile, accidents are more prone to occur. One way to avoid this is to adopt a new outlook towards ageing. The notion of ‘active ageing’ emphasises the need for a “more holistic approach [to ageing] including quality of life, quality of mental and physical wellbeing, and social participation” (Foster & Walker 2015, 85). Therefore, in order to better tackle many of the challenges population ageing brings, we need to adopt an approach to ageing which does not solely focus on economics.
With population ageing increasing, it follows that “retirement… systems are likely to adjust” (Bloom et al 2010, 584). There is at least some logical thinking behind this: if we’re living longer, we’re able to work for longer, which is beneficial to the economy. But is this appropriate? As previously mentioned, the NHS budget is tight, so not everyone in the over 65 age category is receiving the healthcare they need. Therefore, not everybody is fit to continue working into their late 60s and early 70s. This creates quite the conundrum: keep people working for longer to benefit the economy which in turn will have economic benefits for public services such as the NHS, or let people retire at 65 to maintain their quality of life?
My proposal is this: we are to see population ageing as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. If people over 65 are still in good health and are in a position to continue working, then they should. This way, the economy is benefitting as these workers are still paying income tax and the workers themselves are keeping active and social. However, I do think that increasing the compulsory retirement age is problematic, as it may see many over 65s being forced to a work a job they’re no longer suitable for. If this is the case, then there should be other schemes which allow these people to remain active and contribute to the community in other ways than economically. After all, there are many activities elderly people can engage in other than paid employment. Foster and Walker emphasise in their comprehensive approach to active ageing that the term ‘activity’ should refer to “all meaningful pursuits that contribute to individual wellbeing. Therefore, volunteering should be valued as much as paid employment” (2015, 87). So, if people over 65 are not able to continue working, there may be other less strenuous roles they can fulfil to put something into the community. For instance, some organisations may host voluntary community cafes for members of the public to enjoy refreshments and meet new people. Activities like this may be perfect for retired people to keep busy and sociable, whether it be preparing food and drinks or simply just sitting and talking to people. Either way, such organisations are very important, particularly in smaller communities, for bringing people together. As mentioned previously, elderly people living in isolation can reduce their activity and mobility which in turn can put them at risk of falling or undergoing other injuries. Therefore, even if not fit for employment, getting out of the house to take part in such activities can reduce these risks. What’s more, if there are more voluntary schemes like this, there is not as much demand for the government to fund such schemes – it is mutually beneficial.
To summarise, then, it’s simply a matter of fact that the population is ageing at the fastest rate ever. We can either force people to stay in work for longer as a result, or we can adopt a more comprehensive approach to ageing which isn’t so focused on economics, and instead the quality of life of our older generation. Not everyone ages in a way that allows them to continue working in their old age, but we should not see these people as useless in society. Instead, we should take an opportunist’s perspective, and find alternative roles which these people can fulfil to remain active and healthy as well as serve the communities in which they live.
Bloom, D.E., Canning, D. & Fink, G. 2010. “Implications of population ageing for economic growth.” Oxford Review of Economic Policy 26:4, 583-612.
Foster, L & Walker, A. 2015. “Active and Successful Aging: A European Policy Perspective.” The Gerontologist 55:1, 83-89.
Phillipson, Chris. 2013. Ageing. Cambridge: Polity