You have barely extinguished the candles on your 50th birthday cake when the postman calls. It isn't yet another amusing birthday card congratulating you on your milestone birthday, no, it is "Ready for Later Life" pack targeted at 50-year-olds. How would you feel? Would you bin it or would you read it?
This was exactly what I was asked a couple of weeks ago when the BBC invited me to join David Sinclair, spokesperson for the Ready for Ageing Alliance, a coalition of eight organizations, to discuss whether 50-year-olds would be interested in preparing for old age. The alliance calls for the creation of a "Ready for Later Life" pack, which would signpost people at the age of 50 to additional information and advice on preparing for aging. It offers an 11 point prescription to help individuals prepare for aging and points out that our responsibility to age well needs to be supported by a series of rights.
My immediate reaction was to snigger loudly and immaturely. 50 is not old. We are constantly being reminded that 50 is the new 40, so why would we want to read about preparing for aging with an "Over the Hill" pack?
The researcher emailed me over the document and I read in dismay that the "The Ageing Alliance coalition urges individuals to keep fit, eat healthy, plan ahead and listen to a little One Direction."
When I hit the big five-oh, I felt alive and vibrant. I wrote a carpe diem list of things I wanted to see and achieve. Friends who were also turning 50 celebrated their new decade with gusto too. Some decided to take on new challenges, some moved countries, some started new careers, and others began new relationships. None of us considered old age. Even today, I still feel youthful. Surely, there's plenty of time later for that? As for listening to One Direction to "get down with the kids," in my experience, the second you become interested in something that is perceived to belong in the domain of the younger generation, that something becomes uncool.
At the top of the list of the 11 points is advice to get fit. We are constantly bombarded with information telling us to exercise, eat less, smoke less or cut it out altogether, drink less, eat a better, healthier diet and be more active. By the time we get to 50, we should know all that. Do we need telling again? Apparently, some of us do. Our aging society is generally unfit and inviting serious health problems associated with carrying extra weight, imbibing too much alcohol and smoking too much.
Nevertheless, common sense should tell us that we need to address these issues. It is also common sense to consider saving, if you can, for your retirement and paying off your debts - two further points from the Ageing Alliance.
As I waded through the list, I discarded my glib view. There were some salient points. It is important to think about your savings, make a will and consider your future housing arrangements. You may need to bite the bullet and downsize while you are young enough to cope with the stress of moving.
It is important to keep your friends and make new ones. Isolation and loneliness in old age hits far too many people. You ought to maintain friendships and build new networks and relationships into older age.
The world is changing around us. It is important to keep an active mind and engage and embrace new digital technology as well as new attitudes. But most of all, I agree with the point that we should talk about aging and it should be seen as a positive experience.
For me, one vital word was missing from the document -- humor. It is imperative you maintain a sense of humor. That will help you hugely since after all, getting older is not for sissies.
My attitude towards the content of the document changed further after speaking to David Sinclair. He is aware that some will regard the document as interference and will throw it away. However, there are many who need pointing in the right direction and that is all he wants from this pack. He wants people to help themselves by suggesting services that can assist them. He says, "We should all take responsibility for aging well. But if we are to keep active, it is important to ensure there are services available to help us do so."
Talking to people who work for the charities involved in creating the document, I discovered that much time and resources are given to helping people resolve the issues raised in the document. One volunteer explained that she spends every day trying to help older distressed people sort out financial difficulties that should have been addressed sooner. Now they cause fear and dismay for those people concerned. I felt humbled. My initial reaction had been too cavalier.
Although I can understand the argument for such a pack, I am still held back by a feeling that this information is already being provided by various websites, magazine articles and books, and in more entertaining ways that get the message across. I can't quite reconcile myself with an information pack for 50-year-olds. I am quite capable of finding out information myself. I am not "past it" yet. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe I am not being adult about this. Worse still, if I received such a pack, my inner child would have a tantrum and hurl it into the bin and I would stride off, nose in air. Perhaps it is time for me to grow up. What about you? Are you ready for later life?