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Posted 28/11/2011

Is this a salacious piece that ought to be tucked under the counter or placed on the very top shelf? 

My two young nephews were watching an animal programme on television in which the horses began to copulate. “Ah! That is how it all works,” concluded the seven year old after a helpful explanation. His younger brother by two years, had his hands pressed over his ears and kept repeating, “I don’t want to hear”.

When are we ready to hear and to talk about getting older? What is old? When does yesterday’s rock and roll become today’s gardening?

A 10 year old pronounces someone of 18 as being old. At 60, you think someone of 80 is, perhaps, getting on a bit. At 30 getting old is far away… but is it?

Slowly but very surely we are sliding into a new alignment of the generations. Average first time mortgages are now taken out at 37 years of age. More students leave home to go to university and like a boomerang come back to more or less welcoming hands. Youth unemployment is at a high while retirement age for those in work is upped.

This year 3 people in work support 1 older person. By 2035, 2 people in work will support that older person who will live longer and most likely be managing a string of health conditions.

What we face is a personal and family matter and one of significant community and political importance.

Over the past five years I have championed the benefits of early years and good parenting – as something we need to get right as public policy and ought to do better in our everyday actions. On the strength of this, I was commissioned to look at the other end of the shelf, and examine the implications of a large slice of our society getting older and older.

Out of this popped, “A Life Worth Living”. Here are a few thoughts that have come to the fore.

Getting old is not a clinical condition. People, as they get older, want to stay in their own homes and lead as normal life as possible. Most care, when care is needed, is self-care and family care. Conservatively 25% of your lifetime’s health costs get spent in your last few months of life. Death has become the 21st Century’s leprosy - we deny its existence and keep it as far away as possible.

Big as our current financial crisis is, it is as the IMF has estimated, many times smaller, than the economic effects of ageing, over the next three to four decades.

Baby boomers expect good pensions and a strong health and care system. These expectations are very unlikely to be met by state provision, unless a tax or insurance system is levied on this generation and at the same time, they and their community do more to look after one another.

Stepping back from the hurley-burley and having a think about the next 30 years is likely to be a good use of your time.

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