The population is aging; in 2014 there were over half a million people in the UK aged 90 and over and for every 100 men there were 249 women.
The number of centenarians has risen by 72% over the last decade to 14,450.
Disregarding the burden an aging population places on our NHS and other services and ignoring the direct correlation of the projected increase of the UK’s overall population to 74.3 million over the next 25 years, forgetting all of that, what is it actually like to grow old?
I can remember as a child working out how old I would be when the millennium arrived and whilst it wasn’t ‘old’ I wondered what sort of grown-up I would be.
Notwithstanding the fact I have not grown into that person, as a child I was very much of the opinion that there was a ‘them’ and ‘us’ when it came to the young and old; now decades on it would seem there is still a disconnect with the younger generation seeing the elderly almost as a different race and vice versa.
So I thought I would hear it from the horse’s mouth and went along to one of the OAP strongholds, the Devon seaside town of Seaton where I met Ann, Margaret, Robert and his wife Jean.
I THINK ABOUT DEATH & DYING
Ann is 79 and was born in 1937; her earliest childhood memory is going into the air raid shelter during the Second World War in Bexley Heath. She told me she had a happy childhood but she thought her mother was quite old having given birth to Ann when she was 37; as far as Ann was concerned, once you hit your 30s you were old!
Married in 1961 to Donald, she has always led a busy life, never suffering from ’empty nest’ syndrome, she belongs to clubs and stays active,
“I can’t believe I’m 79, I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel, I just keep the momentum going. I don’t think your age is important although when I look at people in their 90s I wonder if I will reach that age.
My mother died when she was 83 and I hope to outlive her.
Yes, I think about death and dying and we do seem to go to a lot of funerals. I would like to see my grandchildren marry, but whatever comes, that’s it, but, (she says laughing) I can’t imagine the world without me.”
I FEEL FINE ABOUT IT
Sitting with Ann was her friend Margaret who was born in 1942; she too remembers the air raids in Camberwell where she lived and going down into the Anderson Shelter. She tells me her childhood was sparse and her memory of adults is that they were just ‘there’.
She has just celebrated her golden wedding anniversary,
“I have started to think about getting older but until recently I didn’t really think about it at all; I’m just happy as I am and feel fine about it. If I see an elderly person struggling on the train or bus, I always give up my seat for them.”
I said my goodbyes as they were keen to get on the Seaton Tramway; I watched them amble across the square.
I DO WONDER WHERE IT’S GONE
Then I met 79 year young Robert, who ‘rattles on’ (his words, not mine).
He had a ‘first class’ childhood living in Stoke-on-Trent and whilst he couldn’t wait to leave school he never imagined getting old. Although there was one occasion in his twenties,
“In 1961 I was in Cornwall enjoying a holiday and I remember thinking at the time that if I lived until I was 50 I’d be happy, then BAM it was suddenly here! Then I turned 70 and thought ‘bloody hell’! I do look back and wonder where it’s gone.
But even now, with arthritis and wobbling along with my stick which makes me feel very embarrassed, I don’t feel old, I still drive and we still go out a lot. I used to drive American cars, Mustangs, Corvettes and Cadillacs until five years ago; if I wanted to do something I’d just do it. I’ve had a good life and I’d do it all again.
I don’t feel old, I’ve never thought of myself as old. I do sometimes look in the mirror and think ‘my God, is that me?
But I’ve always been motivated and independent, that is one thing that worries me, if I get to 80 and find I can’t do things on my own, lose my independence, if that happens, well it’s time to go.
But my philosophy is that you make your own life what it is.”
Robert did rattle on quite a bit more about his past life and he clearly has made the most of it which is when I had my epiphany; without fail, everyone I spoke to had the same philosophy; stay active, remain positive and make the most of life without thinking about aging; it may not stop the years from hurtling past but at least you will have made the most of it and despite the fact that, bar any tragedy befalling us, we are all going to get old, there doesn’t have to be a disconnect between our youth and older years.