New Horizons

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”
W.H.Murray – The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
The Active Ageing project called; “Winning the Generation Game: Improving Opportunities for People aged 50 – 65 in Work and Community Activity” was set up by the Prime Minister in 1999 and the results published in 2000. The project consulted the Government and sources throughout the country looking for advice, and came up with suggested solutions to the problems which included;

• changing the culture
• enabling and encouraging over 50’s to stay in work
• helping and encouraging displaced workers to re-enter work
• helping older people make use of their skills and experience for the benefit of the wider community.

The report was encouraging and a small step forward to ensuring a fairer deal for those in the 50 – 65 generation, and can be seen as offering radical new approaches to difficult situations. There was a suggestion that Government may even consider introducing legislation on age discrimination, if the current voluntary Code of Practice on Age Diversity, proves to be ineffectual. Government departments are themselves reviewing their own employment practices, and steps are being taken to reduce early retirement in their departments, in the hope of setting themselves up as role models, to other employers.

I have spoken to many of my contemporaries about plans they might have made for the rest of their lives. Did they see their older age as a time of retirement and well-earned rest I enquired, or did they view it as a time of opportunity and challenge? As the Millennium drew nearer I became increasingly aware from their responses that their perception of older age was radically changing. The traditional image of ageing was being shaken off, and being replaced by a far more encouraging picture. I discovered that most of my friends were feeling very positive about growing older, particularly my women friends. I enquired further and asked them what more they hoped to achieve in their later years. Many of my female acquaintances appeared to have a very practical approach to their future, which they perceived with a positive mental attitude. They were realistic about their limitations and were busy making preparations as to how best to enjoy the rest of their lives. This optimistic approach appears to be the vital key to keeping many older folk young at heart. Most viewed as a bonus, the predicted increase in longevity and were determined not to waste the extra years.

However my men friends didn’t always have the same positive attitude, and many saw years of retirement stretching out before them and shuddered at the thought. Many who had been single minded, high-powered businessmen, or workers with responsible jobs, found it hard to come to terms with their loss of status. Their career position had been their status for all their working life and many of these men had just concentrated on their jobs leaving little or no time for hobbies or sport. Of course they were interested in sport they assured me – but from the safe physical confines of the armchair or newspaper. Other men too old for active sports such as football, squash, or rugby had taken up golf. But even for them there was a limit to how much golf one could play in a week! With their testosterone hormone levels dropping, men do have a tendency to look back at what has been. And when they do what they see is their power, both physical, sexual and in career terms, all lessening by the minute. They don’t like it and many are pessimistic of their futures. By contrast women have had years, and months in particular, coming to terms with the physical and emotional changes that hormonal swings create! At this stage in life an competent woman’s ability to previously juggle, family, career, sport, cooking, gardening and caring for everybody including her man, eventually pays off. With more time on her hands she looks forward with optimism, satisfied to at last have the opportunity to concentrate her efforts on just one thing or person at a time.

Speaking personally I find that being involved with younger people helps me to have a youthful outlook on life. I try to listen to my offspring, and their own children and their friends, in order to keep an open mind. I hope it will help me to avoid getting set in my ways and narrow in my opinions. I sense that it pays to keep up to date with current trends, fashions and attitudes in order to understand the aspirations and frustrations of youth. It enables us older folk to help the young sort out their problems. (However, we don’t necessarily have to agree with them) It’s interesting to notice how older men and women who are in regular contact with young people have a far more relaxed and accommodating way of dealing with youngsters. Many of these people are teachers or organisers who are active in their social life, running youth clubs or sport or hobby orientated events. They also appear to be more satisfied and fulfilled in their own lives compared with other older folk, many of whom have become bigoted and disillusioned with the antics of a some of today’s youth. I feel that taking a broader, well-informed overview of life creates a healthier mental attitude. Surely it’s better to live for the day, and to take an interest in current affairs, and to be generous in your opinions. When the old do communicate with the young in a well informed manner it creates respect on both sides and goes a long way to bridging the generation gap. Young people have a lot to learn from the experience and wisdom of older people, and many are prepared to respect their seniors, provided they don’t come over as bigoted, opinionated and dismissive of youth.

Let’s now concentrate on the positivity of growing older, and here I believe that women are faster in learning how to control the march of time than most men are. For example women take more care of their physical appearance by looking after their general health, and by maintaining their looks. Women today are well informed, they avidly read books on fitness and specialist magazines and many seek advice from health and beauty consultants. From advertisements and advertorials older women are aware that with a little help from skin care and beauty products, and slight changes to their diet and exercise, they can hope to delay some of the visible signs of ageing. An increasing number of women are resorting to plastic surgery, which they regard as the most positive way of superficially holding back the years. Many other women less fortunate would love to be able to afford plastic surgery while there are others who won’t admit to wanting it. Some women just cringe at the thought of cosmetic surgery and rely on nature being kind to them.

With the dramatic and positive changes in the attitude to ageing, the thought of “retirement” becomes more attractive. Retiring from work, and retiring from the traditional concept of ageing, leaves us free from the constraints that have bound and gagged previous generations of women. With no written criteria or acceptance of being old, we now have the unique opportunity to break with tradition and re-write the rules! It’s exciting, so we must grab at the chance presented to us and make important changes. If we have good health and adequate financial provision, we could find to our pleasant surprise, that just when we thought we were”over the hill” we find the world is our oyster!

Over the past few years the words used to describe older people have changed too, and definitely for the better. Words like “retired” “mature” or “older person” “older adult” are commonplace today – compared to the labels “old age pensioner” or ” a senior citizen” which were used to describe someone over 60 years of age just a few years back. The changes are encouraging, but for me the most amusing label is one I heard at Help the Aged celebration of older people in Gloucester Cathedral recently. A delightful elderly gentleman described himself as being “chronologically advantaged.” This label is my favourite to date – perhaps you have a better one?

All too often people in mid life and later years find themselves in surprising and sometimes unbelievably upsetting situations. As most of us soon learn, life doesn’t always goes according to plan, and there are times when we need to dig deep down within ourselves to find and use our natural resources and strengths in order to move on. Difficulties have to be overcome after the death of a loved one or the trauma of a divorce, and strength regained after emotional or physical problems. Sometimes we feel like “opting out” when it all gets too much but we need to reach out to others and force ourselves to keep in contact with people and the world around us. Social contacts can help sustain us in times of crisis, keep us strong and positive in our attitude and help us adapt to strange or new situations. We must be prepared for change, today we may not find ourselves living the life or being where we had planned to be all those years ago.

• Keep yourself fit
• Keep yourself busy
• Set yourself goals – but make certain some are easily achievable
• Consider those wild dreams that were previously out of the question
• Investigate ways to achieve your specific dreams or aspiration
• Learn to use a computer
• Find details of local groups, social clubs, day centres or adult education from the local Library
• Consider joining a local religious organisation or group
• Find fulfilling ways to contribute to your social world
• Give a little bit back to society
• Volunteer for charity work
• Write to friends, family and grandchildren
• Try to keep your diary full and plan ahead
• Don’t put off till tomorrow what you could do today.
• Write a daily diary or your memoirs – it can be cathartic
• Detail your family history or traditions or special personal possessions
• Arrange short stays with friends and relatives
• Invite friends or neighbours in for a social drink, coffee or a meal
• Free evenings? Offer to baby sit for friends or family
• Consider a pet for company (dogs make good walking companions)
• Book a holiday or residential course
• Learn to relax and pamper yourself

“Look to this day
Yesterday is but a memory
Tomorrow is but a vision
But, today well spent
Makes every yesterday
A memory of happiness
And every tomorrow
A vision of hope
Look well therfore to this day”

A recent Mori poll on behalf of Help the Aged found that “younger older” people had high disposable incomes and that many had substantial savings. The age group was found to be the biggest spenders on foods, goods and leisure, than were the rest of the UK population. Fewer than half of those people aged 55-64 were still working, and many had leisure time to spend. They had time to enjoy the fruits of their labours! The young adult figures are rising and as the babyboomers join the ranks. There are going to be a huge number of powerful people soon crossing the threshold into retirement, and they all have needs to be catered for. With this increase it should be perfectly obvious by now to corporates, retailers, leisure and recreational concerns, and the media that the 50 plus age group is an economic power, and a key consumer group. Those who continue to ignore us, do so at their peril!

Growing older and feeling good is about having a positive attitude to life. We women should never look back and dwell on our failures or have regrets. We must always look forward with optimism. It’s never too late to adjust your lifestyle. You’re never too old to change your habits or to help yourself to better health. Let’s aim to extend healthy life and not merely prolong death – let’s plan for quality life not merely quantity of life. Begin by taking good care of your body and your looks. Be more active and eat a well balanced diet. Be aware of your finances. Nurture your relationships, love and respect your family and friends. Continue to listen and learn, and always keep an open mind. You know despite its ups and downs it’s still a wonderful world, and it’s good to be alive.
Now dear reader it is my sincere hope that the advice and information I have presented in the previous pages has been beneficial and encouraging for you. If it has been – NOW – could be the very moment to take control of the rest of your life! Whatever you do – enjoy it.

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been”
George Eliot

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