Positive ageing – do we need older role models?

There are a few baby-boomer bloggers like myself who write about positive ageing. Sometimes we write about people who are ageing particularly well. But do we need these older role models? Or do they just make the rest of us feel like failures? I belong to the generation of The Beatles and Flower Power. We are now in our late 50’s to mid 70’s and we want to change the perception of older people.

Of course us baby-boomers have always tried to reinvent things.  We reinvented being teenagers.  We reinvented the music young people liked to listen to.  Those of us who became parents reinvented the way we bought up our children.  

Now we are reinventing the way we age.  

Key to this is trying to get rid of the negative stereotypes the media love to promote for anyone over 55.  And as part of that idea we often promote older role models. People who go against normal perceptions of ageing.   

Older role models

We write about people in their 70’s 80’s and 90’s becoming successful first novelists; holding down high powered jobs; still competing in athletic meetings.

But there is now a bit of a debate going among the older blogging community as to whether promoting the older role models success stories just make us ordinary mortals feel inadequate.

I disagree.  Take writing a novel – I would love to complete one but I always seem to run out of steam a third of the way through.  When I read about someone who has just had a novel published in their 70’s, it makes me feel that if I was to put my head down and focus – it is at least achievable.  

Perhaps one day I will complete that novel

It makes me want to try harder.  Does it make me feel inadequate?  Yes a little but it still gives me a goal to aim for, and keeps my mind active.

Working longer

There are women born in the 50’s who have no choice but to carry on working past their 60’s and I support their cause. I feel they were not really given enough time and the right pension advice to prepare for this major shift change in Government retirement policy.  

But inevitably as life expectancy increases we will ALL expect to work longer.  So when we promote people in their 60’s starting new business ventures or people in their 90’s still working as Barbers or Hairdressers – it once again demonstrates what is achievable to someone who is still fit and healthy.

People who can still run marathons or lift heavy weights or compete in their 70’s 80’s and 90’s are definitely in the minority.  It is not something most of my cohorts will ever aspire to.  

They are Masters Athletes and I recently heard a talk by Alex Rotas – a sports photographer (herself in her 60’s) who specialises capturing images of them in action  http://alexrotasphotography.co.uk/ The problem is that the media may well publicise the 80-year-old lifting weights without the context that she is a Masters Athletic competitor.  

To me these athletes demonstrate what is possible if you are prepared to put in hours of training.  But an athlete – whatever their age – will always be a breed apart from the rest of us mere mortals.

We may admire Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill but few of us have the talent and focus to become a Heptathlete.   It’s great that female football and rugby teams at last getting some air-time. By the same token it would be good to see more coverage of Masters Athletics tournaments without just honing in on the 90-year-old sprinter.

Moving more

I don’t want to watch them to feel inadequate but to witness what the human body is capable of.  It encourages me to move around more in my own small way, whether its pounding away on my exercise bike or enjoying my Tai Chi classes. I plan to do this as long as I am able. 

I work a lot with older people who no longer have the mobility they would like. It can lead to them becoming isolated from society.  I am proud to be involved with Action for Elders an organisation that – through their trademarked Balance Lives Programme- provide a chance for those of my age and older who have mobility issues.  They meet regularly once a week and socialise with their peers. And they improve their mobility gently – through a specially adapted exercise programme. 
https://www.actionforelders.org.uk

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Ageing well is not a new concept

My mother was an early exponent of ageing well. She lived to a healthy 92, and always weighed between 130 and 138 pounds – not that she weighed herself very often.  According to the current National Health Service BMI charts she was only just within the healthy weight range for her height bordering close to overweight. 

She never went on a diet in her entire life; she never learned to drive, walked daily to the local shops or used public transport to go to the nearest shopping centre.  She made a point of walking every day.  

Mum kept her mind active by belonging to the library and always having a book on the go.  She socialised by meeting with her friends and contemporaries regularly for tea and cake. In fact she was still in touch with many of the friends she went to school with. 

She suffered from arthritis in her hip and leg but her solution to the pain was to keep moving. “My hips have played me up today so I have been walking up and down the stairs”, she would tell me on my regular evening phone call.

Mum loved life, her family and counted her blessings despite the fact that she had suffered tragedy in her life.  Her four sisters had all died young and she was widowed in her early 70’s.  She died at 92 after a short illness. But for most of her life she was active and healthy only taking medication for hereditary high blood pressure. 

Could we learn from those who have reached this age?

She rarely drank alcohol but enjoyed many other treats and loved to quote one of her favourite songs “Enjoy yourself – it’s later than you think”.  Now I realise that she was in fact doing all the things the experts tell us we should be doing today for ageing well and ageing positively. 

When I worked on a newspaper, I often was sent out to interview people who had made it to their 100thbirthday.  

I usually discovered they ate healthily for the most part and led active lives – although they didn’t visit the gym or run a marathon particularly.  In most cases they just got on with life and enjoyed everything in moderation. 

What can we learn from the longevity of a previous generation when it comes to ageing well?  I think we can take the following ideas. 

Healthy eating with the odd treat is the way ahead. One fish and chip supper or takeaway is not going to make an awful lot of difference, providing it doesn’t become a habit. 

A little of what you fancy does you good. There is no need to ban a glass or wine or pint of beer but its good to have a couple of days a week at least when you don’t drink. 

It’s not what you weigh but how you feel about yourself that matters.

Try to get regular exercise. It can be a simple as a swim in the local pool or walking to the local shops, a daily ten minute work-out or a half an hour weeding in the garden. 

Volunteer for a community project or join a local group. Whether it’s a book club, U3A, Men’s Sheds – Women’s institute or Rotary.   They will all give keep your mind active and sense of purpose, which in turn will combat loneliness and isolation. h

https://www.u3a.org.uk 

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Ageing well and looking good

Ageing well is about feeling good about yourself. If you make an effort to look good then you usually find that you feel good. Here are five fashion fashion faux pas I would seek to avoid – although these days pretty much anything goes when it comes to fashion for the older woman,

1. Dungarees and boiler suits – when I was a young mum I thought these were very practical – except when I wanted to visit the loo.  Now they are back on trend. To the older woman I would say avoid altogether – unless you actually are a motor mechanic or an engineer working on a major building project. 

2. Ripped jeans – to me these are a trend akin to bell-bottom trousers of the 1970’s.  I am sure in years to come, photos of people wearing ripped jeans will be just as cringe-worthy.  I would prefer to be remembered as someone who eschewed this particular embarrassing trend, 

Ripped jeans are akin to embarrassing bell bottoms

3. The cold-shoulder look – unless we spend hours in the gym, our upper arms lose their elasticity as we get older and they are really not that pretty.  Why expose them to the world?

4. The same hairstyle we had as teens – as we age our hair loses its colour and starts to thin – you may even lose it altogether.  Embrace those changes.  Decide to go grey or colour your hair. But make up your mind one way or another. Long grey roots on jet black dyed hair is not a good look. 

5. Killer heels. I have a weakness for shoes and boots.  I admit if I am dressing for an occasion a little heel on the shoe sets the outfit off. But as we get older our balance can be affected.  Slips, falls and trips can lead to becoming housebound or hospitalised.  The best form of prevention is to wear more flat shoes if you are likely to walk any distance. There are so many flattering styles to choose from, 

We don’t have to avoid every fashion trend – the best advice is to wear what YOU feel comfortable in whatever your age. 

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Ageing well, how improving my fitness is improving my chances

About a year ago I was not ageing well. I was technically obese, had just been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and felt sluggish most of the time. My only exercise was to take the dog for a walk around the block.  

I only had myself to blame. Years of yo-yo dieting followed by prolonged periods of bingeing had taken their toll.  I have tried on countless diets over the years.  The detox starvation left me feeling faint and extremely tired.  The high protein no carb diet gave me acid reflux and the high fibre diet just accentuated my mild IBS. 

Realising that my 70thbirthday was two years away, I knew I needed to do something about my situation if I was to have a good chance of enjoying my later life.  A fortune-teller once predicted that I was going to live to a ripe old age.  I decided I was going to have a jolly good attempt at making this come true.  At the very least I wanted to feel fitter and be more active. 

In short, I was going to do the best I could to be able to say I was ageing well. 

I dusted off the exercise bike sitting in the corner of our bedroom, began a more intensive walking programme (having a dog helps) and joined a Tai Chi class.  It was hard at first; I almost fell off the bike after 10 minutes on my first attempt. Now I can manage half an hour and “cycle” eight miles easily.  I do this twice a week alongside walking at least a mile three times a week and learning Tai Chi. 

I don’t consider myself to be on a diet but on a healthy eating plan where- to quote the old song  -“a little of what you fancy does you good”.  It consists of balanced meals that are low in fat and sugar, high in protein and includes complex carbs such as wholemeal bread or oatmeal.  I snack on fruit and allow the odd “treat” maybe a slice of home-made cake, a small chocolate bar, a small wedge of cheese or a glass of wine.  I tend to be stricter during the week and allow myself the occasional – and I mean occasional treat day.

My journey is not yet complete – I still have more than 20lbs to lose before I can say I am comfortably within the healthy weight range for my height.  But have already lost 30lbs dramatically improved my diabetes and feel better than I did in my fifties. 

Getting and staying fit is key to positive ageing. Even if you have you have had health issues in the past, you can still take steps to improve your fitness levels.  Not only does regular exercise improve balance, there is some evidence to suggest it promotes greater body strength, which in turn reduces your chances of a hip fracture if you do slip or trip.

I have many friends who say life is too short to spend time exercising.  They are right.  If you don’t take even some small steps to improve your fitness, your life may well be short.

Of course there are always the exceptions to the rule.  Seemingly fit people who have a heart attack mid marathon or who contact life-threatening diseases despite their lifestyle.  Of there may be the odd centurion who has lived on chips and whisky all their life. But for the most part getting fit and active will help you age better. 

Of course I started on my fitness journey from an easily reversible point.  If you have joint problems or have had a serious illness or you are recovering from a fall you may have bigger hurdles to overcome. But your GP may know of programmes that can help such as the Action for Elders, Balanced Lives Programme.  https://www.actionforelders.org.uk

Follow me on this blog as I continue my ageing well journey.

My exercise bike has become part of my fitness plan
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Baby-boomers its time we celebrated later life

When I was 15 I thought The Who were speaking for me when their lead guitarist Pete Townsend penned the words  “Hope I die before I get old”.  As part of the post-war baby-boomer generation, I thought I would be young forever.

Just like others born in the two decades after the Second World War  there was a spirit of optimism about the future during our childhoods.  Baby-boomers were the first “teenagers”. We lived through the swinging sixties and flower power, we listened to new music genres from The Beatles to heavy rock bands, those of us lucky to have a University education did not have to pay for it.

Many of us  baby boomers are now reinventing ageing.  Providing we are still fit and healthy we can still run a Marathon if we want to.  We can continue to work and many of us do.  We can ditch the grey hair – or embrace it. If we have the money we can travel the world – climb Kilimanjaro – walk the Great Wall of China or travel the UK in a Camper Van.

Even The Who are still touring, as are many of the bands of that time, although these days the given beverage is usually a mug of green tea rather than a bottle of whisky. This should be a positive story but the media are increasingly portraying later life as a major national negative issue.

There seems to be two stereotypes that the media love to promote when it comes to stories about later life.  Freeloading final salary pensioners, living the high-life, rattling around in a £1million home all because we were born lucky when university education was free and jobs for life were plentiful.  The state pension is seen as a “benefit” that we are not entitled to. The politics of envy comes into play. (Of course the years of struggling to pay high mortgage rates and saving hard so we would be better off than OUR parents doesn’t count)

If we are unlucky enough to have health issues, then we are blocking all the hospital beds from more acute cases because of an overwhelmed care system.  In this scenario people in their later life are seen as a “burden” on our society.

One candle for every decade?

When did you last see a media story about the role older people often play in looking after their grandchildren, helping their own children go to out work and contribute to the economy?

When did you last see a media story about the massive contribution made to the voluntary sector by older people, providing their expertise and labour free of charge for the greater good?  When did you last see a story about the elderly carer looking after his or her partner who has dementia or a terminal or life threatening health condition often with minimal outside support and saving the state millions?

We should celebrate older people, dispel the myths and promote how we can ALL get the best out of our later life – because one given is that it comes to most of us sooner or later.

 

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Eat healthily on a budget – freezer tips

We all know that eating healthily increases life expectancy.  But it can be hard if you live on a tight budget or you can’t get out to the shops as often as you used to. With a bit of planning you can stock up your freezer with all the ingredients you need to create some simple budget healthy recipes and get your five a day.

Frozen meat and fish is often cheaper but just as nutritious and there is no wastage. Frozen vegetables are also surprisingly good. I stock up on frozen peas, cauliflower, green beans, sliced peppers, sweetcorn on and off the cob. Sweet potato chips  are a recent discovery and a tasty more nutritious alternative to the plain potato variety. You can also buy frozen herbs and chopped chilli to sprinkle into recipes.  Another freezer staple for me are frozen berries.  Take out as much as you need, defrost and sweeten to taste. Stir into porridge for a really nutritious and filling breakfast.  Or for a delicious dessert mix with natural yoghurt or ready made low fat custard.

Frozen fish is excellent, usually much cheaper and can be used in a variety of recipes.  In most cases fish can be cooked in the oven straight from the freezer (but check the label).  I always have spare bread in my freezer.  I buy a basic medium sliced wholemeal and separate into small amounts.  A third I use straight away, and bag and freeze two more portions.  Any leftover stale bread from the fresh loaf can be grated into breadcrumbs and frozen to be used straight from the freezer.

 

Did you know you could freeze semi-skimmed milk? It keeps for a month but don’t be bewildered if it expands a little and turns yellow. It’s perfectly ok and can be used as fresh once taken out and defrosted.

This simple fish recipe can be on your plate within half hour of thinking about it. Take one or two portions (depending on your appetite) of frozen white fish per person and place in an ovenproof dish, take out a good handful of frozen breadcrumbs per person and mix with some fresh grated cheese (parmesan or hard Italian cheese works best but any cheese is ok). Add a teaspoonful of dried herbs. Place this breadcrumb topping on the fish and bake uncovered in a preheated medium hot oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the fish is cooked.  Delicious with green beans and sweet potato chips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Combat loneliness for older people

There are older people out there who simply have no one to talk to from one week to the next. They are experiencing extreme loneliness through no fault of their own. Perhaps they have lost their partner – or their family has moved away to find work.

Perhaps they have a partner living at home but they have to look after them. Being a main carer – even with help and support – can be a lonely job.

Weekends are the worst time. It’s when families like to do things together – whether it’s kicking a football around the local park or just getting together for Sunday Lunch. To a lonely older person, watching other people out and about and having fun can exacerbate the problem. Sunday afternoons are the lowest point in a lonely week.

Many families today live time poor lives – with a busy round of school runs, work deadlines and other pressures. Whatever good intentions they may have, before they can find the time to pick up the phone and talk to their elderly relative, or call into their neighbour to see if they need any shopping, the weekend has gone and the opportunity has passed.

And so the lonely older person sits there and in many cases, comfort food can become their friend substitute or they become dependent on alcohol. After all who is there to stop you scoffing the whole packet of chocolate bars you bought in your local corner shop because they cost £1 for 4? Who is there to scold you when you have “just one more” glass of whisky?

Some older people may be missing out on social activities like this

Older people experiencing loneliness miss out on social activities like this

 

With the demise of our towns and villages in favour of the larger out of town supermarkets, many small independent butchers and greengrocers have disappeared from our local towns and villages.  This makes it even more difficult for older people without their own car or good transport links to be able to buy the ingredients they need to cook a meal from scratch.  And why bother to cook a meal for one? The rot begins to set in in a round of ready meals, lack of exercise and mental stimulation, forgetting the importance of personal hygiene, and feelings of self-loathing.

But this could not be a blog about positive ageing without seeing that hope is out there for older people who may fall into this loneliness trap. Politicians are realising that loneliness and isolation can lead not just to mental ill health, but poor nutrition and lack of exercise, which in turn puts a drain on our National Health Service and social services. The Jo Cox Foundation, formed to carry on the campaigning work of the murdered MP, is determined to continue her work on in the field of loneliness and isolation.

With an ageing population, local authorities, charities and community groups all recognise the need to make things better for older people as our society. Local befriending networks are growing in number. Programmes like Action for Elders Balanced Lives programme, help older people keep fit and active both mentally and physically and creates a local network of friendship. More of these programmes and initiatives are needed – but – and it’s a big BUT – will only thrive if they get referrals.

Getting someone to admit they are lonely is a big hurdle to overcome. There is a stigma to it especially in a generation that has been bought up to be fiercely independent. We ALL need to recognise this problem exists and it’s the responsibility of us all to do something about it. If you know an older person who is lonely and vulnerable – perhaps even a member of your own family in this position – I would like to throw you a challenge. Take some time from your busy schedule to find out what there is locally that could help them and make that phone call or visit to tell them what’s out there. Action for Elders, Age UK, your local church, Red Cross or voluntary services council might be a good start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.actionforelders.org.uk/Pages/Category/how-to-refer

 

http://www.ageuk.org.uk/health-wellbeing/loneliness/feeling-lonely/

 

http://www.redcross.org.uk/en/What-we-do/Health-and-social-care/Independent-living/Loneliness-and-isolation

 

https://www.ncvo.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

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Take charge of your debt

We all borrow money but if debt is keeping you awake at night then you need to take charge.

One of the best benefits of being pension age is that you have a fixed regular income that, while subject to some fluctuation from the markets, is largely fixed at about the same annual figure.

But although the tabloid media would have us to believe that the majority of over 60’s have benefited from final salary pension with big lumps of cash to invest – this is not always the case.

The recession has led to some private pension plans dropping significantly in value leading to a lower amount to purchase an annuity. Others have reached the age when they thought they would be receiving their state pension only to find the goal posts have been moved and they unable to find work to keep going until they qualify. All these factors are contributing to a looming retirement debt crisis.

This doesn’t necessarily mean borrowing on a credit card or taking out a small personal loan for a holiday or new car and paying it back in affordable chunks – but real debt amounting to tens of thousands of pounds that there is no hope of repaying.

Debt charities have reported that the percentage of over 60’s contacting them – while still quite small – is on the increase.

So if you are worried about paying money you owe then burying your head in the sand won’t make it go away. Debt charities such as the National Debtline www.nationaldebtline.org or Step Change www.stepchange.org offer their advice free of charge and can help you come up with plans to pay it back.

But beware – they are not be confused with commercial debt advice companies who may ask for an upfront payment and leave your finances in a even worse state without solving your problem. Downsizing is a good way to pay off debt or reduce your living expenses such as council tax and utility bills. But not everyone wants to move from their family home.

Many older people have paid off their mortgages and taking out a lifetime mortgage on their home may be a way of paying off the debt. But there are pitfalls. You may be able take out a lifetime interest only mortgage on your home – which can be up to 60 per cent loan to value providing you meet the affordability criteria. But if one partner dies will the surviving partner have sufficient pension income to meet the repayments?

Equity release loans work differently. Loan to value will be much lower and there will be no repayments until the home is sold. But with compound interest building up year on year, the final debt may be substantially more. Usually there is built in protection against negative equity but it is important to be aware that the borrowing will eat into your homes overall value and any inheritance will be substantially reduced.

To my mind this was a good product when property prices were rising year on year – but this is no longer the case nor is it likely to be for some to come.

Be positive about taking control of your debt. Speak to a debt charity and see if you can reduce your payments. If you own your home and want to release some cash that way, contact an independent financial advisor who can look at your personal circumstances and recommend the best course of action for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Facing up to death while enjoying your life

This blog is about ageing positively, living well and enjoying our later life. So when an icon like David Bowie dies at 69 it makes us all realise our own mortality. It seemed ironic to me because just before Christmas a dear friend of ours also called David died at 69 – the same age as Bowie.  He wasn’t a world famous musician but he was really into his music, having a vast knowledge of the contemporary, rock, jazz and world genres – and like Bowie he seemed to be ageless somehow.

David Hugh Evans, forever young

David Hugh Evans, forever young

 

Of course there was a time when the biblical three score years and ten from Psalm 90 was more or less our life expectancy. But today we are pushing the boundaries far beyond that and many are living to greet a full century. By these standards it’s a shock when someone dies relatively young whether from the dreaded Cancer, a sudden heart attack or like our friend after a serious infection.

Which brings me to the unmentionable taboo of later life – death itself.

 

Bowie had very much the right attitude, releasing a critically acclaimed album just days before he shuffled off his mortal coil. He lives on through his music anyway but he has also left us the gift of some new work to discover. Most of us are not talented enough to leave a legacy like that but we can make life easier for our friends and relatives after we’ve gone by facing up to death while enjoying our life.  A funeral can cost anything from £3,000 to £5,000 so putting money aside or taking out an insurance policy can help.

Writing down how you want your body to be disposed of and whether you want a religious ceremony or a humanist one, even choosing music can really make the event a celebration of your life and can actually be uplifting,

It goes without saying that a lot of heartache can be saved by making sure your Will is up to date. This may sound morbid in a blog that is about making the most of your life. But I am not suggesting you dwell on it. Just think the unthinkable, make your plans and move on and enjoy the rest of your life.

I hope it’s a long one.

I haven’t blogged for a while because I am working on a book on Positive Ageing that I plan to publish as an e-book very soon. Watch this space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dementia awareness week

If an old person is being portrayed in a TV drama or film they are usually typecast as someone who is very forgetful or acts a bit odd. When we get older – if we forget something – we refer to it as a “senior moment”.

We tend to lump all of this together and call it Alzheimers. But dementia is far more complex and there are other common forms such as vascular dementia. Dementia is no respecter of socio economic status or intelligence. You could be a university professor or a rocket scientist and still contract this illness.

It’s important to point out that dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing. And it can also affect younger people.

Thanks to organisations like Age UK we are seeing more positive role models of people in later life holding down jobs, living life to the full and breaking down the dementia stereotype of anyone over 75.

So why mention dementia at all. Surely that’s a negative thing in a blog that is about positive ageing?

Dementia I firmly believe that if someone does develop dementia, we can all take steps to improve the quality of life for them and more importantly for their primary carers.

It may start with some simple measures such as memory cafes and other opportunities for dementia sufferers and their carers to be able to socialise.

Or it could be by volunteering as a “dementia friend” we can relieve the burden placed on a carer (often elderly themselves and caring for a partner).

A Dementia Friend learns a little bit more about what it’s like to live with dementia and then turns that understanding into action – anyone of any age can be a Dementia Friend. It can start with helping someone to find the right bus to spreading the word about dementia on social media –  every action counts.

It could simply be that we educate ourselves about what it is like to live with dementia either as a sufferer or a carer so that we can raise awareness and encourage community initiatives to help.

You will have this chance to action some of these points next week because it’s Dementia Awareness Week 18-24 May. The theme for 2015 is “Remember the Person”. Visit the following websites to learn more

http://bit.ly/1E8ZxM6

http://bit.ly/1gG6RdK

https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk

 

 

 

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