I wanted to start here with this clip from the Who at Live 8. I love the idea that a band who once sung ‘Hope I die before I get old’ are now well into their sixties not just demonstrating mastery born out of 40 years of honing a craft but so obviously enjoying themselves.
Just as The Who leave me feeling optimistic about what I can offer in older age, so too does a recent Academy of Medical Science (AMS) report suggesting that average life expectancy in the UK is increasing at more than five hours a day, every day. Contrary to a popular belief that these added years may not be of what AMS call ‘chronic disabling disease’. Rather healthy life expectancy is increasing at least as quickly as life expectancy. Optimistically, increasing longevity becomes an opportunity rather than a threat, with more people enjoying longer, healthier lives that allow them to contribute more to society.
Yet, a recent court ruling reinforced compulsory retirement at 65 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8274328.stm) which, set against the way that the recession has eroded savings and pensions for older age is somewhat concerning. It’s just as well that Labour plan to review the retirement age in 2010. Though it’s unlikely they will be in power then, the Conservatives announcement that they will raise the pensionable age suggests that such a review will be necessary.
In any case, as the ASM argue the challenge from here is to ensure that the positive messages from medical research are reflected in public perceptions of ageing and older people. It may not be health that will force withdrawal from life or dependency but exclusion from the labour market, economic situations forcing them into a more basic standard of living or simply an attitude that they should move over and make space for the younger generation.