Ageing is something to look forward to

The age between 65 and 79 is not old age anymore, it is the third age, and a positive time for most people. A new survey by the Swiss National Research Foundation says a quiet revolution has been taking place among the lives of retired people.

This content was published on January 12, 2000 - 16:38

The age between 65 and 79 is not old age anymore, it is the third age, and a positive time for most people. A new survey by the Swiss National Research Foundation says a quiet revolution has been taking place among the lives of retired people.

The survey looked at the situation of older people in cantons Geneva and Valais between 1979 and 1994 and found that increasing numbers were living healthy active lives until the age of 80.

"We're living in amazing times", said Francois Hoepflinger, coordinator of the survey. "40 per cent of people born in 1940 can expect to celebrate their 90th birthdays."

The survey found widespread improvements in the quality of life for older people. Those under 80 are healthier, wealthier and more active than 15 years ago.

"The fact is, the ageing process is being postponed," said Professor Christian Lalive d'Epinay of Geneva University's department of gerontology. "Biologists believe human life is possible up until the age of about 120, and we're getting close and closer to that limit."

The survey found that life for the over 80s in Switzerland had improved too, but not so radically as for younger people. Around 20 per cent of people in advanced old age live in special homes, and suffer from serious illness. But the outlook for the next generation of people reaching the age of 80 is positive; Hoepflinger and d'Epinay expect their quality of life to improve, reflecting the healthier, more active lifestyle they will have enjoyed in their 60s and 70s.

The big question is how big a financial burden the increasing numbers of retired people will place on the working taxpayer. Francois Hoepflinger believes the Swiss should not be too concerned.

"Firstly we are a rich country with the resouces to deal with this, and secondly many retired people play roles that benefit the economy: they look after grandchildren so that parents can work, or they are active in voluntary organisations."

Overall the survey shows that there is less to fear from getting older than many people had imagined. Although old age comes to us all eventually, in the year 2000 the problems of old age are arriving later, and more and more people are enjoying active healthy lives up to the age of 80.

By Imogen Foulkes

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