Adding life to our years
How long do you think you’ll live? Until you’re 70? 80? 90? Do you think you’ll reach 100?
Jess Kuehne, Senior Engagement Manager, blogs about the fact that most of us are living for longer, the potential this offers us and the unfortunate inequalities in healthy ageing across the country.
The Office for National Statistics has a calculator that tells you just that. Enter your age and gender and it will estimate how long you might live. For me, it estimates I might live until I’m 89 – and I have a one in four chance of living until I’m 97.
The fact that many of us could live to be close to 100 is a huge achievement and one that should be celebrated – but those extra years we’ve added haven’t been matched with an increase in healthy life expectancy. On average, we spend roughly the last fifth of our lives in poor health or managing a disability.
There are also stark inequalities across the country. People living in areas like Kensington & Chelsea, where healthy life expectancy is highest, can enjoy on average 18 more years living in good health compared to people living in places like Blackpool or Manchester.
Being in good health underpins so much else in our lives – whether we can keep working, whether we’re able to look after ourselves or will need social care, or whether we can get out to spend time with our friends and family and maintain social relationships.
At the Centre for Ageing Better, we have identified ‘Healthy Ageing’ as one of our four priority areas. Our goal is for people to have five more years free of preventable disability and to reduce the gap between the richest and poorest people in disability-free life expectancy by 2035.
WHO defines Healthy Ageing as “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables wellbeing in older age.” The key here is the idea of ‘functional ability’, which is made up of both our personal physical and mental health and our surrounding environment.
Our goal is for people to have five more years free of preventable disability and to reduce the gap between the richest and poorest people in disability-free life expectancy by 2035.
I often think of my grandmother who, at the age of 95, is in pretty good shape for her age. She never smoked, she tried to maintain a healthy diet and she was committed to regularly exercising. But her hearing is declining and her ability to move around isn’t what it used to be. Yet she has a hearing aid that makes conversations with others easier and she lives in a home with few stairs and a level access shower, meaning she can continue to live independently and doesn’t require social care. She no longer drives, but she lives in an area with a regular and reliable bus service, meaning she can still visit friends and get into town to meet my sister for a coffee.
So, how do we make this the reality for more people as they grow older?
If we can influence people to adopt healthy behaviours in mid-life, such as giving up smoking, eating more healthily and being more physically active, we can reduce their risk of developing long-term health conditions in later life. For those individuals who do go on to develop long-term conditions and disabilities as they age, we can work to create environments, services and products that minimise the impact their declining health has on their wellbeing and daily lives. It’s change on these two fronts that is needed to give us those five extra years of life in good health.