Inevitably, we greyhares get a bit gloomy from time to time. We are, after all, faced with uncertain futures. But some of the reasons for pessimism are receding. For a start, we now know that as a group we can expect to live much longer than any previous cohort of our age. Overall, by 2030 the proportion of people aged 65 and older worldwide will have grown from 59% to 70%. And looking further ahead (for some of us) there are going to be many more people in their 80s than ever before and the numbers are increasing. Indeed those aged over 80 are the world’s fastest growing age group.
Longevity itself has it advantages, but will those extra years actually be enjoyable? There, too, we have reason for optimism. Recent articles in the British Medical Journal have touched on two everyday areas that have previously been largely ignored – sexual activity and everyday functioning. Firstly, turning to sex, if you are a man aged 55 now, the chances are that you will remain fully active sexually till you are at least 70. For women of 55 the outlook is less good but if you live with a man a few years older than yourself, the evidence suggests that at least the activity of you and your partner will wane at much the same time. Interestingly, the healthier you are, the longer sexual activity remains.
Second, turning to how we will be functioning generally when in our 80s. Obviously, many of us will develop chronic diseases (at age 85 men will be living with 4 such conditions, and women 5). However it seems that in general these diseases (which will include raised blood pressure, certain heart irregularities, hearing impairment, arthritis, urinary incontinence, cataract) will cause us relatively little impairment of day-to-day living. So, in a group of UK 85 year olds, over three quarters of them rated their health compared to others as good, very good, or excellent. There clearly remains the threat of cancer and dementia, but palliation for many cancers has improved enormously, and even for dementia there is possibly a silver lining as the rate of developing Alzheimer’s disease appears to slow after the age of 90!
It would seem that the greyhares generation has struck it lucky again. Hats off to us!
Health and disease in 85 year olds: baseline findings from the Newcastle 85+ cohort study
BMJ, 22nd December 2009