The World Health Organisation (‘WHO’) defines healthy ageing as being able to do the things you value for as long as possible.
They make a clear distinction between lifespan and health span and recognise that health span is as vital as lifespan. Health span represents the time in people’s lives when they can fully participate in what they value the most.
Since 2000 overall lifespan has increased, which is a good thing on the surface, but over the same time, so has the years that people spend in poor health. Women living in the UK will, on average, have 64 years in good health. But will spend their final 16.1 years in poor health. Imagine living almost two decades of your life in poor health!
It is a significant cause for concern and why it is crucial to support the nation to age well. We need to prioritise this for ourselves, our parents and society.
Probably an impossible question to answer because life and ageing mean very different things to different people. The ‘WHO’ define this in terms of the following functional abilities:
The ‘WHO’ defines functional ability as ‘having the capabilities that enable people to be and do what they have reason to value’.
We can illustrate this by considering the functional capability of being mobile and getting up from sitting down. When you are young, you can likely get up out of a chair without the need to use the strength in your arms or hands. As you age, this might get more difficult; but it won’t cause a problem, and it’s not a transition that you will necessarily notice. But, you will notice when you no longer have the strength to perform this task, as you will be stuck in the chair or worse on the toilet!
At this stage, you have crossed a threshold where you don’t have enough functional ability to perform this task. No doubt this will cause you much frustration and stress. There are aids that can support you but this can feel like an insult to your identity and independence and you will struggle without them for as long as possible (or until someone nags you so much you finally give in!).
Being mobile is perhaps the clearest example that we can use to illustrate the loss of capability, but I am sure we can think of lots more. Functional abilities are often interlinked. Being mobile is linked to the functional capability of building and maintaining relationships. If you aren’t mobile, you are less likely to go out and consequently; you are less likely to be building and nurturing relationships.
We will cover this in more detail in upcoming articles, with steps you can take to age well, but in the meantime, the critical questions that you can ask yourself and others are: “What does ageing well mean to you?” and “What are you doing today to support yourself to age well?”. Remember that everyone is different, and there are no right or wrong answers, but the best starting point is to understand what ageing well actually looks like for people as individuals.
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