Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

WHO’S old to­day? ‘Blis­ter­ing speech on Brexit’ by 76-yearold Ken Clarke, jour­ney to Ja­pan and Hiroshima planned by 80-year-old Pope Fran­cis and an­other busy year ahead for 90-year-old El­iz­a­beth II: th­ese cur­rent news sto­ries may seem to fea­ture the ex­cep­tions, but there’s hardly a vil­lage in Eng­land that doesn’t rely on 70 and 80 year olds to keep things run­ning, raise money and look after the less able. There are, of course, the ‘sit down at 60’ bri­gade, but even they rely on that army of re­doubtable men and women who have no in­ten­tion of giv­ing up.

Peo­ple such as Caro­line Cran­brook, at 81, the scourge of out-of-town shop­ping, but now tak­ing up cud­gels for ru­ral busi­nesses hit by rate in­creases; El­iz­a­beth But­lerSloss, still bat­tling for the de­prived at 83; or the youth­ful Ann Hay, who, at 75, runs a Cum­brian bowling club, cof­fee morn­ings for the ‘oldies’ and pro­duces won­der­ful flower ar­range­ments for the lo­cal church. Who’s call­ing them old? We’ve all got to ad­just to a new at­ti­tude in which, to quote the 97-yearold ath­lete Charles Eug­ster, ‘age is just a num­ber’.

It’s no longer good enough to think of the over-six­ties as if they fit­ted the road-sign im­age of two old dears with sticks try­ing to cross the street. Nor should we re­vise our at­ti­tudes just be­cause we can’t af­ford to pay pen­sions as early as once we did. In the words of Ja­panese geron­tol­o­gist Ya­suyoshi Ouchi, it’s sim­ply: ‘To­day’s elderly are younger than in the past.’ And he should know. Ja­pan’s Ge­ri­atrics So­ci­ety con­ducted a ma­jor piece of re­search that showed that even be­tween 2000 and 2010, peo­ple seemed to have aged much less and, on av­er­age, ap­peared 10 years younger than their fore­bears. Thus the so­ci­ety re­de­fined the elderly, start­ing them at 75 in­stead of 65. Not sur­pris­ing re­ally, con­sid­er­ing that our no­tion of 65 was in­vented by the Ger­mans in 1916.

The change in at­ti­tude is ur­gently needed as a mat­ter of re­spect and a recog­ni­tion of the con­tin­u­ing con­tri­bu­tion of older peo­ple. Re­tire­ment shouldn’t be the goal for the ful­filled. Change and learn­ing new skills, tak­ing on dif­fer­ent de­mands and new chal­lenges ought to be the ex­pec­ta­tion of healthy peo­ple in their six­ties, seven­ties and even eight­ies.

The caveat of ‘healthy’ is, of course, im­por­tant. Recog­nis­ing that most of us are health­ier than ever be­fore shouldn’t blind us to the fact that a mi­nor­ity is in­ca­pac­i­tated by ill­ness— but that can be true at any age. The pro­por­tion rises as peo­ple get older, but in­ca­pac­ity should never be seen as a nec­es­sary part of the def­i­ni­tion of age. In that case, why should am­bas­sadors be re­quired to re­tire at 60 or Church of Eng­land clergy at 70, ir­re­spec­tive of their ca­pac­ity?

This ageism is not only very old-fash­ioned, it’s ex­tremely ex­pen­sive. If we con­tinue to think like this, the next gen­er­a­tion will have an in­tol­er­a­ble bur­den of pay­ing for ac­tive peo­ple who in­creas­ingly live well into their nineties.

How much bet­ter and cheaper if pen­sion en­ti­tle­ments were rolled for­ward and men and women worked longer so that, when they do re­tire, they will have more to live on. It’s the at­ti­tude that counts. Re­search is very clear. You re­main healthy longer if you’re ac­tive, en­gaged and work­ing. It’s al­ready true that, in many coun­tries, even with proper so­cial-se­cu­rity sys­tems, more than half want to work to 70 or be­yond. It’s a view we should recog­nise as nor­mal and en­cour­age it. If noth­ing else, it re­duces our stock of cur­mud­geonly old boors for whom com­plain­ing fills the space left by not work­ing.

‘It’s no longer good enough to think of the over-six­ties as the road-sign im­age of two old dears

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