The calls to ‘redefine middle age’ up to age 75, made in a new survey released by National Seniors Australia, come just a few months after Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt made the bold statement during an address at the National Press Club that “70 is the new 40”.
National Seniors Research Director Professor John McCallum says these feelings of youth, as found in the survey, are positively impacting health and wellbeing, leading to people living longer.
He adds that governments and the broader community need to give older people permission to feel and behave younger, rather than being ageist and treating them as though they are “not mentally agile and as a cost burden”.
“Australia’s population is ageing, with one in six people now over 65 compared to one in seven in 2011,” he says.
“By 2050, as the Baby Boomers move through, 22.5 percent of the population will be aged over 65.
“People in that age group used to be easily identified by grey hair, conservative clothes, and retirement , but today many over 65s are still in paid employment or running their own businesses, socially active and intent on staying fit.
“The community needs to realise this and not be surprised or embarrassed about older people wanting to stay active and involved - in other words, ‘acting young’.”
In his address to the National Press Club, Minister Wyatt said that it was a “good thing” that Australians were living longer and that it was time, given this increased longevity, to re-examine the concept of a ‘third age’.
He went on to quote the National Ageing Research Institute that states: “‘Australians are living an extended middle age not an extended old age. There is no arbitrary age when frailty and decline sets in. For most of us this will not occur until around 80 years or even later”.
This is when the Minister made the suggestion that today, in 2017, “70 is the new 40 - and counting”.
Coinciding with Minister Wyatt’s statement, Professor McCallum says the Federal Government’s Australian Aged Care Roadmap, which aims to promote positive social attitudes about aged care to enable people to prepare for their future care needs, was the right direction for government policy, but adds that in general governments “need to get their messaging right when they act to redefine ageing”.
“Pension and service eligibility changes are usually expressed in terms of cost rather than improving health and changing aspirations,” he says.
“If the private sector can get this right, governments should be able to as well.”
Professor McCallum also refers to a number of subjective age studies over the past two decades saying they have consistently shown that self-perception of age is a “powerful predictor of a person’s wellbeing and longer life”.
He adds that this leaves sound reason for governments and the community to take a “fresh look” at how they treat older people, and that if they come up with fresh, less stereotyped approaches, it will end in them saving money.