Growing Old: A Reason for Celebration not Despair

Donald NorfolkThere’s nothing harder to change than the misconceptions we inherit from our parents. For that generation the advancing years were always regarded as a time of growing decrepitude, a period of failing health, faltering memory and fading eye sight. This may have been true in Shakespeare’s day, when old stagers were expected to slip into a state of second childhood, ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’ But this doesn’t apply today, when many people quit work with a clean bill of health and a comfortable bank balance, ready to enjoy thirty or more years of active retirement. Today’s woopies, the new breed of Well Off Older People, are benefiting from a greatly enhanced life style. They are exchanging their Zimmer frames for mountain bikes, and signing up for wild life safaris at an age when their parents might have been booking a bed in a geriatric nursing home.

Surveys show that Third Agers nowadays can be healthier, happier, wealthier and more successful than adults twenty or more years their junior, who are saddled with the burdens of child care, mortgage repayments and heavy work commitments. Here are some of the benefits enjoyed by the over-sixties today:-

  • Fewer colds ‘Colds get fewer as one gets older’. That’s one of the most consistent findings of medical research, according to Sir Christopher Andrewes, the former head of the Common Cold Research Unit at Salisbury. Surveys show that people over sixty can expect to experience seven times fewer colds than young school children.
  • Reduced risk of headaches Tension headaches and migraines tend to become less frequent as we age, possibly because older people are under less pressure or have developed better techniques for coping with stress. One survey revealed that the average age of people attending headache clinics is thirty-eight. Another study revealed that British MPs were forty percent more likely to suffer migraine headaches than members of the House of Lords. ‘We are not surprised,’ a director of the Migraine Trust responded, ‘The average age in the Upper House is higher than in the Commons. Migraine is a condition which you tend to grow out of in later life.’
  • Healthier teeth Senior citizens are less prone to dental decay than children. Improved dental hygiene during the past twenty years has resulted in a sixty-five percent rise in the number of caries-free teeth in adults. This may soon lead to a disappearance of false teeth, which will no longer be seen in bedside tumblers but only displayed as relics in museums of medical antiquities.
  • Better loving Numerous studies have shown that given normal health, and a loving relationship, Third Agers need experience no decline in their capacity to enjoy sex. If fact the quality, if not the quantity, of sexual encounters is often found to increase during the retirement years. As one woman reported: ‘I didn’t know getting older would make sex better! I’m sixty-one now and just getting started!’
  • Greater contentment A recent analysis carried out by the Economic and Social Research Council, showed that Britons over the age of fifty were enjoying the happiest time of their lives, a contentment which was linked with improved health, a comfortable retirement income and an increased emphasis on quality of life and self-fulfilment. The same trend has been recorded in America where a statistical analysis disclosed that people were happier in their first two years of retirement than in their last two years of paid work.
  • Enhanced wealth The over-sixties are now the richest age group in Britain with eighty percent of the nation’s wealth in the hands of people over the age of fifty-five. Statistics also show that these favoured folk – rich in experience and blessed with a wide network of social contacts – also make the most successful entrepreneurs. A recent survey revealed that seventy-two percent of new businesses set up by people over the age of fifty were still trading five years later. This compares favourably with the average survival rate of UK start –up companies, half of which go out of business within four years.

‘You’re as old as you feel,’ is an old adage which has the support of modern geriatric research. Our chronological age is fixed by the calendar; whereas our physiological age is determined largely by our attitude of mind and general approach to life. We can think ourselves young. Whatever our age we have a future as well as a past, and must live with hope as well as with memories. One way to ensure a fulfilling retirement is to follow the advice which Carl Jung gave to his elderly patients when he himself was seventy-six. ‘Live each day as if you’ll be here for another hundred years. Then you will really live to the end.’

© Donald Norfolk 2010

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