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Older Age - New Rites and Responsibilities?

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With new data showing a new baby boom, commentators have come back to the difficult questions facing the original baby boomers. When are you going to retire? Are you going to retire? Today, there is a focus like never before on what it means to grow into older age.

If you're in your 40s and 50s now, chances are that you'll have a close relative to look after more closely, or at least be aware of their deteriorating health and circumstances. If you're still thinking that old age is simply a line you'll cross when, say, you pass 70, think again. The ostrich mentality has gone. You can't simply leave it till later.

There are some effective ways for engaging and communicating with people as they grow into the stages of later life - each one a rite of passage and a personal responsibility.

1. Take a new look at old age. That's our motto. It's about a positive attitude. Life is not over. Stay interested. It's more important than being interesting. We've got to challenge our own attitudes and assumptions to living (and working and learning) in later life.

2. Forget the numbers game. This is no time to think about sitting back and taking it easy, 'before it all falls apart'. More and more people want to and will have to remain economically active. The future of our later lives is about considering opportunities and challenges. The fuzzy lines between generations are disappearing. Age is no boundary for people who remain healthy.

3. Reinvent the future. Ultimately, later life, post 59, 69 or even 79, will be best lived in the spirit of reinvention. We might want to start thinking about that today.

4. Stay connected. Whatever it takes. If you can, give of your time. Volunteer, support others. Keep learning. At the very least, take notice of the world around you and keep active.

5. Celebrate ageing. We don't mean 80 candles on your birthday cake - we mean honouring the fact that you, and others, are growing older day by day. It means talking about it, making the most of it, helping people to see that it isn't all doom, gloom and decrepitude. It all sounds very un-British, but life here is changing for everyone and that includes attitudes.

If we stick to the thinking that old age is a fatal disease we must ignore till it happens, then our society is doomed. True, many old people are vulnerable and needy. We are all victims of an unstoppable development called ageing. Yet there's no doubt that age beliefs can influence the ageing process, and individuals can influence their age beliefs.

When older individuals realise that they have this control, it becomes more likely they will engage in good health practices that will enhance their lives.

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