I blame The Golden Girls. Weekly, for years, it sold the idea of a sun-filled, fun time for elderly women full of energy who were either nearing retirement or long into it. These women still had love, romance and sex; occasional contact with their children; interests which involved working part time; going out to various parties and events; living in palatial surroundings and sharing laughter round the kitchen table while eating ice cream. It was a format that made the audience almost envy those who were approaching or in their final years.
Old Age is not for the faint-hearted. It’s an ever decreasing circle of diminishing returns.
Unless you’ve been blessed with good genes, a good earning capacity and have had a healthy lifestyle for decades you will have instead a myriad of problems to look forward to.
Money unless you’ve salted it away to provide a cushion will never quite be enough. As your income from whatever pension you have will largely stay static, your outgoings will increase over the months and years. Inflation will mean that if you stay in you’ll worry about the heating bills and if you go out you’ll need the cash to fund that wee cup of coffee or that theatre seat. Your world will narrow as your options diminish. Best take up some hobby that isn’t that dear – the internet, libraries, rambler outings, learning a new skill or language at a returners-friendly university, Silver Screens for slightly older films and making use of free or reduced public transport while you still can.
Chronic ailments like diabetes, arthritis, auto-immune etc tend to encroach as you age. You’ll start to need medication which at first will help to alleviate the initial condition but as time goes on will have increasing side effects which will affect more and more of your body.
If you’re lucky, you will have none of these chronic conditions but you will be aware that the TV needs to be just that little bit louder, your night driving gets worse and worse and your arms need to get longer and longer just to read the small print. Your teeth will start to look longer and longer in the mirror as your gums start to recede. Those laughter lines will become etched into your face and stare back at you from the mirror. Your eyes will look puffy in the morning as if you’ve had little sleep but worryingly still look like that at lunchtime. Your gut will play tricks on you and rumble ominously in nether regions which in your early life you didn’t even know you had.
Your circle of friends will, unless you take steps to address this, decrease as people die, move away or become less able to get out and about. Loneliness will gradually encroach until you keep on the TV or the radio just to have someone else talking in the room.
And, as you approach that end stage where with reduced faculties and increasing frailty you need others to provide more and more of what you used to be able to do for yourself you face the stark choice of being a burden to someone else – either someone who loves you or someone who gets paid to pick up the slack. “In sickness and in health” means something to the over 70s who struggle on together, while they can, but as society becomes less and less about life-long relationships it is unlikely that there will be so many people with someone to provide that intensive love and support for the current singletons enjoying their youth with gay abandon.
So, if you’re young enough to make the necessary changes now – watch that diet, keep that body fit, get regular check ups, build up that private pension.
And, no matter what age group you are: buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!