Getting old isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially if you were born into a nuclear family and, for whatever reason, have no family and your friends are scattered over the globe, or have preceded you. Single, widow, widower, divorced, no kids, there are tens of thousands of us in Britain - and most will try to retain their independence for as long as possible. Yet there are huge risks in doing this and that's why there are awful stories about people being found only when their corpse gives off that putrid stink of decay.
But light bulbs need changing, stairs need to be climbed, windows need cleaning and food needs to be prepared. Things we took for granted in our younger years become an intimidating challenge when joints pains can cause reflex jerks and when skeletons become brittle. A fall can be fatal as can the flu. They say that falls are the leading cause of mortality in the over-75 age group, which makes a change from the usual crap about smoking being number one killer full stop (01).
And all these oldies are causing serious problems with the state pension and the NHS. That resulted in a pressure group that's doing all it can to make sure they're not ignored nor denied treatment. It's called Age Concern (02) - and they offer a range of services and support, providing you've got the gumption to get in touch with them. Citizens Advice also produce a very helpful list of benefits available to retirees, many of which are valuable and some - like bus passes - a life saver (03).
Naturally all these antiques make for spectacular statistics for the healthists as well as pressure groups like ASH, however the downside is the Treasury sussed out some time ago that the State Pension Scheme simply couldn't cope, so various Chancellors have been quite ruthless in advancing the age at which people can claim the state pension. They started with women with gradual hikes, so they can now only claim from age 63. The whole thing's available here for those in their 40's or older (04).
Trouble with this is, while we're living longer we're not doing so without complications. It seems that females born in 2015 will live for an average of around 83 years and men about 79, yet the final ten years for women and nine for men will involve "disabilities". As a result some group with a fancy title has published a study in the Lancet recommending the Treasury quit with their policy of increasing the pensionable age because a high proportion of old people simply will not be fit to work (05).
So it seems that some on the health side do understand that after the biblical three score years and ten things go downhill very fast for the majority of people. Nevertheless I don't see any way our current crop of healthists or politicians will back down and say "life's for living, we'll advise but at the end of the day it's your life, so go and enjoy".
From what I've seen a whole stack of lifetime decisions come back to visit us in later life. Too tight a belt can ruin a back, as can lousy posture. Winkle pickers have caused no end of problems for many guys who have bent toes and ingrowing toenails. Women have their problems from having a bunch of kids, while stilettoes have caused havoc with their toes and ankles as well. They're cause and effect.
But there are some things that just jump up and bite you on the arse, irrespective of genes or lifestyle. They're Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. However recent research has shown that if you drink a lot of coffee then it may also offer substantial benefits, including protection against heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, liver cirrhosis, Parkinson's disease, cavities, colon cancer and prostate cancer (06).
And for those of us who smoke, there's even better news, published on the 3 October 2016. It seems our habit has previously unknown benefits. They say:
"Smokers are far less likely to be overweight or obese, which provides some benefit to the brain. When people don't eat too much, their brains don't shrink as quickly, keeping them mentally sharper for longer."
As a consequence:
"oral nicotine may actually prevent the brain from aging, and thus developing Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease."
The study was conducted by Texas A&M University and - naturally - they don't recommend getting your nicotine via a cigarette (07)!
Me, I've never much cared for substitutes, so I'll stick with my two and a half litres of coffee and two dozen rollies per day and hopefully grow old with all my faculties intact. And, with luck, get back every penny I paid into the State Pension Scheme, plus interest!