Older generations should inspire us all

THERE was a time, not so long ago, when anyone over the age of 65 was considered past it.
Or rather, that was society and the media’s rather dismissive verdict of the retired or anyone claiming a pension.
They were people to be visited once in a blue moon or wheeled out at family gatherings whose activities were restricted to crown green bowls or knitting.
They were the kind of people for whom it was acceptable to buy socks for Christmas – or even one of those naff pot pourri sets from Marks & Spencer.
Crucially, they were so boring and irrelevant that they were to be avoided if at all possible.
Fortunately, I’ve never shared that rather depressing view of “senior citizens” as they used to be called.
Neither, it seems, do the powers-that-be at Cheshire East Council, who will soon be assigning lifestyle coaches to the elderly and disabled.
The idea is that only those people who need intensive social care will attend day centres in the future.
The rest will be encouraged to keep fit and active, take part in social groups and remain independent.
I can certainly see the logic behind this move.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the population of the UK is ageing.
Over the last 25 years, the number of people aged 65 and over increased from 15 per cent in 1984 to 16 per cent in 2009 – a rise of 1.7 million.
During the same period, the percentage of the population aged under 16 decreased from 21 per cent to 19 per cent.
This trend is expected to continue, so that by 2034, 23 per cent of people living in the UK will be aged 65 and over, compared to 18 per cent aged under 16.
In 1984, the average age in the UK was 35. In 2009, it was 39. By 2034, the median will be 42.
These changes will mean an increasing burden on the welfare state and the NHS and, crucially, will require a pretty radical shift in attitudes towards older people.
To my mind, few things are more sad than reading of older people eking out sad lives – rarely getting out, seeing no-one and just, well, existing.
It is one of the great social scandals of our time.
What a crying shame. What a tragic loss.
The loneliness of such an existence doesn’t bear thinking about, let alone all the wisdom and experience that is going to waste.
Cheshire East Council’s novel approach to “the elderly” won’t eradicate such isolation, but it may help to keep people active, interested – and interesting.
If I make it to 2034, I’ll be 62 and, as I reach that age, I’ll be taking my lead from some of the wonderful people I’ve met through my job.
I’m thinking here of the likes of the late, great Sir Stanley Matthews, my former colleague John Abberley and Ladsandads founder Doug Brown – to name but a few. All of these continued to be as vital and relevant as ever right up until they died.
But it is not just the great and the good who serve as inspirations to me.
I can think of examples within my own family of people for whom age was never any kind of barrier.
Take my nan, for example, who died a couple of years ago at the age of 80.
Ethel Tideswell was the kind of person I’d like to emulate when I’m older.
Although she would never admit it, in later years she was half deaf, partially blind and had a very dodgy ticker.
However, none of this prevented her from living a full and active life and thereby enriching the lives of all she met.
She had lived in her house in Sundorne Place, Bentilee, for more than 50 years, but then the stairs became too much for her.
It was a big wrench to leave her marital home.
However, her move to a little bungalow in Smallthorne gave my nan a new lease of life.
She made new friends, joined the local social club and used to run errands “for the old folks” who were her new neighbours.
I took her on holiday to a cabin in Scotland and she was a joy to be around.
Whatever we did, nan did – including the 2,150ft cable car trip up Aonach Mor, beside Ben Nevis. That was my nan: fearless, independent and vivacious.
Her brother, Bob Tansey, was another great example of someone who continued to live life to the full.
A life-long supporter of St. John Ambulance, he went deep-sea diving and parachuting for the first time when in his 70s.
I can’t promise I’ll be so energetic if I live that long, but I know I’ll never consider myself to be old… just older.

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