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Older couple walking down street

Ageing: the things we don’t talk about

This week Independent Age published research on how we avoid talking about the challenges we may face in later life.

According to their poll, the things we find most difficult to discuss are our preferences for end of life care; who will care for us when we are older and where we would like to live if we could no longer live at home.

It’s not as if we don’t value these things – four out of five people judge these conversations to be important. But less than a quarter of us have actually talked about them with family members.

It’s easy to imagine the barriers to difficult conversations like these. We might lack the knowledge and confidence to start a conversation; worry about the reaction of family members; or be unsure when to bring up sensitive topics. In response to the research finding, Independent Age has launched a helpful online resource to support families who want to talk to older relatives about sensitive issues.

I am sure many of us would admit that, if we were to have these conversations at all, we would delay them until later life. I could certainly be described as a delayer and have friends and family who are deniers (to use the language of the report) when it comes to talking about ageing. But of course, conversations about later life don’t need to wait until later life. Indeed, it’s probably best if they don’t.

Talking about ageing

I am not a planner by nature but if working in the ageing sector has taught me anything, it is the importance of thinking and talking about these things early. We know that health, financial security and social connections all matter when it comes to a good later life. In recent research by Ipsos MORI for Ageing Better, physical health and money were the main concerns for 50-54 year olds as they age (55% and 41% respectively). People were also pragmatic about these things – they wanted ‘good enough’ health and enough money to fund essentials, to participate in society and to have a buffer against unexpected financial shocks. We know that there are steps that we can take now to enable these things.

Talking about ageing doesn’t always have to be challenging or sensitive. Imagining our later lives and what we want them to be like could be a positive. Where do we want to live? How do we want to spend our time and with whom? I would like to be spending time with friends and family, doing something worthwhile and to make sure I have a good supply of gin. But that is not for everyone.

Planning and preparation

When is the optimum time to talk about ageing? It is a question we are trying to answer at Ageing Better. There is no simple answer but there may be points across the life-course where we might be most receptive to thinking and planning for the future. For example, when living independently for the first time, starting work or having a baby. When children leave home or a parent dies could also be life changes which force us to look forward.

At the Centre for Ageing Better we will be scoping new work on planning and preparing for later life in order to understand what might help us all think, talk and take action to have a good later life. I am hoping to learn some lessons to apply to my own life along the way.

We want to hear what you are doing on this subject. Please share any ideas or thoughts to Ali Hawker, Senior Evidence Manager

Claire Turner
Director of Evidence (job share)