Making ageing and retirement less daunting

Financial insecurity and ill health are some of the major challenges that make ageing, retirement and old age very burdensome or even scary.

Quite a number of people dread ageing and this pushes some employees to resort to altering their ages to delay their retirement so they can keep their jobs for a while.

Ageing is however, inevitable. There is also a steady decline in strength, health and means of livelihood associated with growing old. Therefore there is the need to invest in healthy lifestyles and financial security, while still young to ensure that old age does not become a huge challenge to the individual and society.

Realities on the ground

The reality is that the ageing population is growing bigger, according to the United Nations (UN). The global population aged 60 years or over, numbered 962 million in 2017, more than twice as large as in 1980 when there were 382 million older persons worldwide, the UN says.

More worrying is that its 2017 document titled: “World Population Ageing,” notes that globally, the number of older persons is growing faster than the number of people in all younger age groups.

“Over the coming decades, the number of older persons is expected to grow fastest in Africa, where the population aged 60 or over is projected to increase more than threefold between 2017 and 2050, from 69 to 226 million,” it adds.

Action therefore is what is needed, the UN says. This, it notes, is to ensure that nobody, both the younger and older generation, is left behind in the development process.

It urges governments to implement poli­cies to address the needs and interests of older persons, including those related to housing, employment, health care, social protection, and other forms of intergenerational solidarity.

It adds that by anticipating this demographic shift, coun­tries can proactively enact policies to adapt to an ageing population, which would be essential to fulfilling the pledge of the 2030 Agenda for Sus­tainable Development.

The World Health Organisation, (WHO) believes a longer life brings with it opportunities, “not only for older people and their families, but also for societies as a whole.”

In a  factsheet on ageing and health, released in February last 2018, it notes that additional years provide the chance to pursue new activities such as further education, a new career or pursuing a long neglected passion.

The WHO however says that the extent of these opportunities and contributions depends heavily on one factor – health.

Hearing loss, cataracts and refractive errors, back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, depression, and dementia are some of the common health conditions, said to set in with growing old. Other common conditions the WHO calls geriatric syndromes, also affects the older generation.

Despite these conditions and many others factors such as poverty that could come with ageing, there are still many opportunities for making this stage of one’s life fulfilling.

What is needed is some proper planning and preparations towards retirement and also working consciously on one’s health.

Financial and investment coach, Robert Kiyosaki, has a lot to say about wealth creation and planning for retirement.

He notes that the age-old advice that one should go to school, get a good job as an employee,  ensure job security as well as save some money, may not be the best formula for wealth creation and a comfortable retirement.

Kiyosaki, bestselling author of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series in his book titled: “Retire Young Retire Rich,” touches on why majority of salaried workers are more than likely to retire broke after several years of hard work with nothing to look forward to but an insufficient pension benefit.

He quotes Alan Greenspan, one time Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in the US, as saying: “We need to start teaching our kids to take care of themselves financially, rather than teaching them to expect the government or company they work for to take care of them after they retire.”

Kiyosaki believes, with some financial literacy, old age and retirement can be pleasant and rewarding. What individuals however need to do is to shift from working to make money to making one’s money work for an individual, while still young and working.

He believes income earners should move from employee status during one’s working life to creating businesses and investments, which could lead to cash flows through passive and portfolio incomes.

Kiyosaki urges that retirement should be properly planned through a deliberate effort in acquiring money management and investment skills, which are needed for investments in areas such real estates, paper assets and businesses. These are areas he says creates wealth, over a period of time.

The prospects of growing old age may not create anxiety but issues such as poverty and ill health are the two crippling factors that make ageing and retirement very daunting for majority of people, especially salaried workers.

Money, wealth and good health are important ingredients in making old age attractive and also help the older generation to fit in properly and also offer their best to society.

This is clearly demonstrated in the number of old and ageing politicians across Africa with some close to 80 years but still on the move serving in public life as executive presidents of nations and legislators, because they have links to power, wealth and some measure of good health.

Countries such as Ghana, Nigeria are examples of countries with ageing presidents enjoying power without any sign of being senile.

Clearly, it can be seen that old age is not all that frightening, once it is has links to wealth and is also coming with some measure of good health.

Society, governments and other stakeholders must therefore come together to support healthy ageing because it is an inevitable end of humankind.

Finding a way out

In March this year, the BBC in an article titled “Can exercise reverse the ageing process”, ranked persons as old as 80 years being actively engaged in sporting activities and benefiting from physical exercises.

Interestingly enough, this article was co-authored by Norman Lazarus, an Emeritus Professor at King’s College London and a master cyclist in his 80s.

It listed master athletes, such as Martina Navratilova, who became the oldest main draw Wimbledon tennis champion at the age of 46 and Striker Kazuyoshi Miura, 52, of Yokohama FC, who was the world’s oldest professional footballer.

With Otto Thaning, becoming the oldest person to swim the English channel at 73, while 71-year-old Linda Ashmore was the oldest woman to do the same thing. Robert Marchand cycled 14 miles in an hour in 2017 at the age of 105, setting a new record.

“Not only does exercise help prevent the onset of many diseases, it can also help to cure or alleviate others, improving our quality of life.”

“Recent studies of recreational cyclists aged 55-79 suggest they have the capacity to do everyday tasks very easily and efficiently because nearly all parts of their body are in remarkably good condition. The cyclists also scored highly on tests measuring mental agility, mental health and quality of life,” the article adds.

It did state that studies suggest regular exercise “is more effective than any drug yet invented to prevent conditions facing older people, such as muscle loss. To reap the full benefits, this pattern of behaviour should be laid down in a person’s teens and early 20s,” it notes.

The article supports the WHO’s position contained in its factsheet on ageing and health, that maintaining healthy behaviours throughout life, particularly eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, and refraining from tobacco use all contribute to reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases and improving physical and mental capacity.

Behaviours also remain important in older age. Strength training to maintaining muscle mass and good nutrition can both help to preserve cognitive function, delay care dependency, and reverse frailty, it says.

It talks about diversity in old age and adds that there is no typical older person because some “80 year-olds have physical and mental capacities similar to many 20 year-olds. Other people experience significant declines in physical and mental capacities at much younger ages,” the WHO adds.

However it says the diversity seen in older age is not random. “A large part arises from people’s physical and social environments and the impact of these environments on their opportunities and health behavior”.

“The relationship we have with our environments is skewed by personal characteristics such as the family we were born into, our sex and our ethnicity, leading to inequalities in health. A significant proportion of the diversity in older age is due to the cumulative impact of these health inequities across the life course.”

One other area that health experts are concerned with is discrimination and negative attitudes about ageing that affect health outcomes.

In October 2011, the WHO and the United States National Institute on Aging, published a report on global health and ageing and asked some critical questions. Among these are whether population ageing will be accompanied by a longer period of good health, a sustained sense of well-being, and extended periods of social engagement and productivity, or will it be associated with more illness, disability, and dependency?

“How will ageing affect health care and social costs? Are these futures inevitable, or can we act to establish a physical and social infrastructure that might foster better health and wellbeing in older age?”

According to the report, population ageing is likely to influence the cost of healthcare spending in both developed and developing countries in the decades to come.

It notes that significant costs associated with providing support may need to be borne by families and society.

The WHO has recently focused a lot on healthy ageing and the Sustainable Development Goals and mentions the need to implement the report on Global strategy and action plan on ageing and health to ensure that contribution is made to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

It adds that action to foster healthy ageing can help tackle inequities and ensure older people age safely in a place that is right for them and that they are free from poverty and can continue to develop personally and contribute to their communities while retaining autonomy and health.

By Eunice Menka

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