Self-regulation in later life. Doctors get old too!

Now that I am reaching a certain seniority in terms of age, I am aware that there will come a time when self-regulation falters.

This is the process expected of us when dealing with our personal affairs. From childhood onwards we are encouraged to develop personal responsibility and this is complicit with mature adulthood. But as we reach the end of our days, vulnerabilities appear.

Throughout life you address changing circumstances, such as educational needs, employment, finances, friends, partners, family, accommodation and leisure activities. You are less likely to have considered the problems of ageing, unless this has been linked to supporting an ageing relative. Nevertheless, as you approach retirement, these problems deserve attention, turning them into manageable challenges.

In some societies the aged retain their seniority, maintaining a revered and venerable position within a family, while in others, being no longer a major earner can be accompanied by loss of position and respect, this in turn leading to a feeling of inadequacy and depression.

However, every age has its own pleasures, and surveys suggest that two-thirds of the population enjoy old age, while a half of these consider it as the happiest period of their life. Capturing these joys requires self-determination and application. Initial considerations are re-employment, applying existing or new skills in the voluntary or commercial sectors. You are likely to acquire a different circle of friends and have to develop a new approach to time management.

It is a time to consider the things you said you wanted to try but had not previously had time for, such as educational pursuits, signing up for a degree or diploma in the arts or sciences, and acquiring new practical skills, such as in art, crafts and music. Consider opportunities to travel, adding adventure and fun (travel brochures themselves provide enjoyable reading). Do not neglect the need for regular exercise; enjoy your food, but be sure that new eating and drinking habits keep you at your optimal weight.

Although you are never too old to learn, set realistic achievable targets that enable you to reach your full potential. This includes examining your finances and balancing them with your needs. As inheritance tax is around 40 per cent, some consider the cost of everything you buy in later life can be looked on as a 40 per cent reduction! You should write a will and obtain advise on legacies and trusts. You may be property-rich, but cash-short, and you need to consider if the size and position of your property equates to your long-term needs. Will you need a car, and how are your driving skills likely to progress.

Aim to grow old with dignity and grace, retaining enthusiasm and independence, and living what you consider a quality lifestyle. Advanced directives lay down how you wish your health to be managed, and appoint advocates on financial matters. You can plan and pay funeral expenses in advance.

So what are the problems: the longer you live the more likely you are to die, but regrettably, you cannot accurately predict this event: although self-assessment helps, most of us want to ignore this possibility.

The main problems are loneliness, and the need for mental, physical and material support. Identifying these potential hurdles enable you to plan how to address and combat the challenges, while active citizenship enables you to utilise these same skills to help others.




Professor John Lumley
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