A guest blog from Professor Alan Walker, Professor of Social Policy & Social Gerontology at The University of Sheffield, on how the creation of a social policy for ageing could lead to a better later life for all.
If we are concerned about the quality of later life we must focus on the ageing process as a whole, the life course, and not only the last segment of it. This is because the financial, social and mental resources that people possess in old age are often determined at much earlier stages of the life course. This is obvious in the case of pensions, which depend massively on occupation, but is also true with regard to physical and mental health. For example, childhood deprivation is associated with raised blood pressure in later life.
After such a wet winter, a bit of sun may sound like no bad thing, but people often underestimate the effect of high temperatures on older people: the 2003 heatwave led to an alarming 22 per cent increase in mortality among people 75+ in England and Wales. So I was very pleased to be invited to a roundtable held by the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, as part of their Inquiry into Heatwaves: Adapting to Climate Change.
This guest post was contributed by Dr Alan J. Gow, Associate Professor in Psychology at the School of Social Sciences, Heriot-Watt University
What keeps you sharp?
That’s an important question for many of us, especially as we get older. It was also the name of a nationwide survey exploring what people expect to happen to their thinking skills as they get older, and the first results from this have just been released.
Over 3000 people across the UK responded to the survey, aged from 40 to 98 years old, and we’ve published these findings in a new report, ‘What Keeps You Sharp?’. Aimed at the public, older peoples’ groups, charities and health professionals, our intention is to help everyone think about their brain health in the same way we’ve become more knowledgeable over recent generations about managing our heart health or lowering our risk of certain cancers.
People in poor health are 1.9 times more likely to report feeling lonely than those in good health
People who are widow(er)s are 3.6 times more likely to be lonely than those who are married.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently published a report on the characteristics linked with feeling lonely, which found that while people of all ages can be lonely, there are some groups particularly at risk – and there is a strong association with poor health and being widowed.
We were pleased to read the news at the weekend reporting that the NHS is recommending dance classes for older people to help them to stay fit and healthy and reduce their risk of having a fall.
We certainly need to do something to prevent falls and fractures among the over-65s as they account for over 4 million hospital bed days each year in England alone and are a serious threat to older people’s self-confidence and independence: about 1 in 10 older people who have fallen are afraid to leave their homes in case they fall again.
Only 10% of the older population do as much physical exercise as is recommended by doctors and research with older people has also found that dance classes are much more popular and engaging than traditional falls prevention programmes. For many older people, an approach which is about being active and social can be much more appealing than simply trying to prevent something.