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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Let’s create an age-friendly world

Any regular readers of my blog will know that I am passionate about ageing positively. Key to this is to stop seeing older people as a “problem” and start making our towns and cities age-friendly places.

A key driver in creating an age-friendly society is overcoming the isolation and loneliness many older people feel.

In today’s transient society so many older people’s families have moved away.  Old people living alone often cite Sunday as their “loneliest” day because it is very much a day for family get togethers. For others the only person they have a conversation with in the entire week is the person delivering the post.

So-called “bed-blocking” has practically demonised old people blaming them for much of the problems of the National Health Service.   But if an old person lives alone there may not be the support mechanisms are in place to ensure continued recovery in their own home. Agencies such as the Red Cross and the Royal Voluntary Service do sterling work trying to help older people settle back in their homes. But more needs to be done and in an age-friendly community there would be even more support mechanisms in place.

Older drivers are much maligned and spending on bus passes for the over 60’s often begrudged in our ageist society. Make it harder for older people to drive and take away their bus passes and where does that leave them – totally isolated. Good transport links are another essential for an age-friendly community.

We all need to be much more aware of the needs of older people. What’s the good of falls prevention education if there are uneven paving slabs and potholes at a road crossing as there are in my local village? Even geriatric wards are not always age friendly. I recently heard a woman recount how her aunt had a very nasty fall after using the toilet on her geriatric ward because the cord to ring the bell for assistance was too high for her to reach.

CURA_Flower

The World Health Organisation has recognised the need to develop Age-Friendly Cities. It’s a subject I want to see high on the political agenda throughout the United Kingdom.  And it’s a subject I plan to return to as there are so many issues to cover

In the meantime here is a very good website.

http://agefriendlyworld.org/en/

 

 

 

Longevity – Everything In Moderation

Many years ago when I worked on a local newspaper I used to interview people when they reached the age of 100. It struck me that most of the centenarian’s I met did not particularly follow any diet or do any formal exercise. The advice they always gave for their longevity was “everything in moderation.”

There is something about that wartime generation. They are rarely big drinkers of alcohol, eat sensibly without worrying about fat or carbs or their five a day and, while they may not do any formal exercise, if they are still mobile they are more likely to walk or catch a bus to their destination rather than get in the car to drive there.

My own dear mother

My own dear mother

My own dear mother lived to 92. She hated fruit but loved salad and vegetables – even so I don’t think it amounted to five portions a day. She never visited a gym in her entire life – but she used to walk everywhere. She rarely drank alcohol and never smoked. She did not play brain games or do a crossword but was an avid reader and, whenever her arthritis troubled her, she would go out of her way to increase rather than decrease her mobility.

I think we are all getting a bit paranoid about ageing these days. As soon as we hit our 60’s we are bombarded with leaflets telling us what we must eat and urging us to join a gym or exercise class. Brain games are best sellers in the tablet or iPad apps stores because we are told we must keep our minds active.

I am not advocating a couch potato lifestyle, daily fish and chips or binge drinking (something we are told is a problem in 60 to 70 year olds).

But I do think a little bit of what you fancy does you good. One 90 year old told me she enjoys a little bit of chocolate every day and it doesn’t seem to be doing her any harm. She still drives and is active in her local community. Although she did admit to me that she cuts down on her favourite sweet treat before her regular 6 monthly blood test because if there is any slight elevation in sugars she’ll get a lecture from the practise nurse.

So I plan everything in moderation. I might walk to my nearby shops and take my dog for longer walks instead of driving. I will still enjoy my glass of wine but abstain from alcohol 3 or 4 days a week, I might eat plenty of fruit and vegetables but I won’t be obsessive about counting them and I will allow myself an occasional naughty treat such a slice of home-baked cake or a packet of crisps.  In the words of the song “Enjoy Yourself . It’s Later Than You Think!”

Grow old with style

I am as guilty as the next person for making terrible fashion faux pas but I’m getting better. My late mother-in-law was a smart, fashionable and elegant dresser until the last and I plan to emulate her and grow old with style.

Still looking smart in her late 80's

Still looking smart in her late 80’s

So why do so many people wave goodbye to fashion once they hit 55? Men see their hair thinning and try to disguise it with a “comb-over” while women either have their hair cut in an unflattering short style because it’s “easy to manage” or – worse still – get stuck in a time warp with the same style as they had in their 20’s.

If I had my way, shapeless anoraks, frumpy lace up loafers and oversized t-shirts would be totally banned for women. As for skirts or trousers with elasticated waistbands – unless you are infirm and have difficulty dressing – they are a real no-no.

 

I’ve struggled with my weight over the years but I would much rather get a larger size with a fixed waistband than wear an elasticated waist – they never seem to hang right. But I do add a small caveat here my mother-in-law had difficulty dressing in later years and had to succumb to elasticated waist trousers. However she always wore elegant top or jacket over them.

Should only  be worn in the house or at the gym

Should only be worn in the house or at the gym

I have nothing against dressing for comfort but even then it’s possible to have a bit of style. Leggings and boots look better than trackie bottoms and trainers (unless you are off to the gym) On the whole I would say it’s better for older women to go for classic clothes and a few investment buys. (I covet a pair of Not Your Daughter’s Jeans for their flattering fit – expensive but can be worn dressed down with a shirty top or dressed up with a smart jacket) and I scour E-bay and the charity shops for good label classics. To my mind “style” is a big part of ageing positively and I don’t think it’s superficial. When you look good – you feel good. And it has nothing to do with trying to look younger or going under the surgeon’s knife. Some of the most stylish men and women I know celebrate their wrinkles and have grey hair or thinning hair. Another friend of mine is definitely plus size but always looks great.

When Sir Tom Jones decided to ditch the hair dye and steer clear of the plastic surgeon, he instantly became a lot more stylish. It’s a pity so many celebrities cannot do the same and age positively like him. Helen Mirren is a real style icon for the older woman. She always has a flattering but unfussy hairstyle and wears tailored clothes that flatter her slim but not stick thin figure. Twiggy, Joanna Lumley, Julie Walters and Honor Blackman also fly the flag for the stylish older woman.

 

Irresponsible grandparents?

As someone who worked in the news industry I can only think that it must have been a very slow news day for BBC news earlier this week when, to coincide with half-term, great play was made about a survey from Mumsnet.

It said many parents were concerned about the care given to their children by grandparents. They were worried that their children were being given too many sweet treats and had too much screen time.

The programme then proceeded to interview some parents who thought grandparents did perhaps “spoil” their children more than they did. But only one person actually seemed really concerned about it.

And further analysis of this “news” story showed that one quarter of the parents questioned were worried. Which basically means that three quarters of parents surveyed were satisfied with the valuable role many grandparents play in providing FREE childcare, particularly during school holidays.

Jacob at Techniquest, Cardiff

Jacob at Techniquest, Cardiff

I am a little tired of the publicity given to some young people (thankfully in the minority) who seem to they have “invented” parenthood. From the mum-to-be who thought that there should be car-parking spaces allocated to pregnant women to the parents who sent an “invoice” to a five year old boy’s parents because he was unable to attend a classmate’s birthday party.

I remember when I was a young working mum, I definitely relied heavily on my parents (who moved house to be able to help with childcare) and my in-laws.

 

That bond between my children and their grandparents was so special. Even when they were adults they often turned to their grandparents if I was away.

I love having my grandchildren whether it’s for a few hours or overnight. I enjoy meeting them from school or nursery and hearing about their day. I love making things with them whether it’s some cupcakes or a toy made from old cereal packets and toilet roll tubes. I love playing with them in the park.

My middle grandson is fascinated with trains and when we can’t physically go to see them he loves watching YouTube videos of them with me on my I-pad. But oh dear – that’s “passive entertainment”,” irresponsible internet usage” and “too much screen time” to the holier-than-thou parenting brigade.

Looking after them is never a chore but a joy and I take my responsibility to them very seriously indeed and alright, I admit it, I do “spoil” them a bit.