This is a topic that is impossible to ignore. The plight of ‘senior citizens’, or what ever other euphemism is used, is scarcely out of the news and a stream of advice on how to survive old age comes daily through the letter box. We are bombarded by ways to plan our funerals, the benefits of various care homes and advertising for pension and health plans. It is a fact that with better health care we are all going to live longer and the ever expanding group of oldies are made only too aware of the difficulties involved with their advancing years, that can now go on for decades. No longer is it just our allotted time of “three score years and ten”, because now it is not a phenomenon to reach the age of 100. In fact it is becoming more and more common. This lengthening of our lives appears to have come upon us rather suddenly and we seem to be ill prepared. Of course, one of the main worries is dementia in all its guises, which completely reduces the quality of life. But dementia aside, what is the good, the bad and the ugly about the autumn of our lives?
First the Good – and there is some if we look for it. It is hoped that by the time we have reached the age of 70 the work load should be easier. I don’t necessarily mean retirement because for some, as with writers, actors, singers, etc. there is no retirement. But in most cases there will be less stress in the slower lane. We have more time for things we haven’t done in the past.. We can make our own schedules and there is no obligation to stick to a timetable. Our time is our own. Time to spend with family and friends. Time to join clubs, make new friends, take up voluntary work. The opportunities are endless if we look for them and don’t just give in to the fact that we are growing older. Even if the pennies have to be watched, there are things we can do that don’t take a toll on the purse. We may have to make changes, but these aren’t always a bad thing. There are so many examples of people living a very good and productive old age – the Queen, Mary Berry, Bruce Forsyth, Sir Ian McKellen, Joan Bakewell – to name but a few!
The Bad. Obviously deteriorating health is one of the main disadvantages of getting older. However much we might pride ourselves on keeping our youthful energy, it suddenly hits us that we are not as young as we were and not so mobile. One morning session in the pool leaves us needing to put our feet up for the afternoon with a cup of coffee and a doughnut! Our energy certainly diminishes with passing time – and alas we cannot stop the tempis from fugiting. There are also the grimmer illnesses, including all the forms of arthritis. These can prove debilitating and putting up with pain is one of the worst aspects of getting older. The only solution is to try and adapt our lives accordingly and accept the pain killers on offer. Alternatively there is always a good bottle of wine, or a gin and tonic!
Lastly, the Ugly. There are quite a few things that fall into this category but perhaps the main ‘ugly’ aspect of getting older is the loss of so many contemporaries. It is hard to see great friends and members of your family leave you, sometimes with long and lingering illnesses. And for many loneliness can set in, along with depression, especially if forced to lead a more static life.
I have no answers for those who are really suffering. But for those of us who find the later years manageable, I hope it will be possible to live our lives still finding new experiences and pleasures. They are out there – they just have to be found. And if all else fails there is always reading and listening to music. An endless joy, whatever your age!