Ageing is inevitable. However, while we can’t stop the process, we can challenge stereotypes experiencing new smart ways for growing older and happier.
Anna Dixon, Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, author of the book ‘The Age of Ageing Better? A Manifesto For Our Future’ (out on the 11th of June) has engaged most of her professional life with the UK government at senior levels to make the case for why a mature population should be seen as an opportunity. She has not only highlighted a strong vision for successful ageing but also made it clear that we have a choice. How we respond will determine whether we are all able to make the most of our longer lives.
With her new book, she takes a radically different view of what our ageing society means. She turns the misleading and depressing narrative of burden and massive extra cost of people living longer on its head, providing a refreshingly optimistic view of how we could all enjoy a better later life.
There are many stereotypes – everyone is lumped together in the media – she said-. You’re either a baby boomer, cruising around the world spending loads of money; or you’re stuck in a care home or hospital bed. But it’s a hugely diverse group of people, and it’s about looking at what are the opportunities earlier in their lives to help them.
Examining key areas of society including health, financial security, where and how people live, and social connections, her book also shines a spotlight on how as a society we’re currently failing to respond to the shifting age profile and what needs to change.
There’s a profound change occurring because of increased life expectancy – she explains-. On the one hand that’s something fantastic and something, we should be celebrating. But the demographic shift with a larger proportion of the population in older age is something we’re not preparing for either individually, in terms of saving enough or thinking about what sort of houses we might need to be living in, or as a society.
According to a study carried by Ipsos Thinks ‘The Perennials – The Future Of Ageing‘, mature people are increasingly packing their life to the full. For many, their reality doesn’t necessarily align with the labels they’ve been given. They’re not slowing down, but taking on new challenges, roles and responsibilities. Those with money to spend are smart about spending it. They’re not digital natives, but they’re more connected than we give them credit for. They’re not withdrawing from life, but demanding more from it and us. They’re not wilting in the autumnal years of their life. They’re perennials. And, like their namesake in nature, they are hardy, with the ability to withstand changes to their environment; they adapt, evolve, and grow anew.
There are 15 million people in Britain today in their fifties and sixties who feel happier, wiser and more self-confident now than in any other period in their lives – Marie Stafford from JWT Innovation Group, the Wunderman Thompson’s in-house creative think tank for the future -. Part of the 50+ demographic which accounts for almost half of the nation’s consumer spending and more than three-quarters of its financial wealth, they wield unprecedented financial power. Quite simply, they are a force to be reckoned with.
We need to change how we think about later life. Failing to do so runs the risk of high costs; in terms of expenditure on care but also in missed opportunities for business and most imp importantly, for us all and what we can contribute in our more mature years. Achieving this kind of change here will lie not in piecemeal initiatives, but a fundamental shift in policy, practice and attitudes ensuring that everyone ages well, and that later life is a time when everyone can thrive.