MIDDLE AGE: Three-quarters of Australians aged over 50 feel at least 10 years younger, new research says.
MIDDLE AGE: Three-quarters of Australians aged over 50 feel at least 10 years younger, new research says. CONTRIBUTED

Attitude is key to life, not age

THREE-quarters of Australians aged over 50 feel at least 10 years younger, new research shows.

Feeling younger positively impacts on health and wellbeing and means people lived longer.

The National Seniors' survey revealed that people felt about 20 per cent younger than their actual age, with women 30 per cent more likely than men to feel younger. The results show that Australia should redefine "middle age" up to age 75.

Governments and the broader community also needed to give older people permission to feel and behave younger, rather than being ageist, treating them as though they were slow or not mentally agile, and seeing them as a cost burden. Marketers realise this but the rest of the community still tends to define ageing through negative stereotypes.

Australia's population is ageing, with one-in-six people now over 65, compared with one in seven in 2011. By 2050, as the Baby Boomers move through, 22.5 per cent 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 65 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".

The Federal Government's Australian Aged Care Roadmap aims to promote positive social attitudes about aged care to enable people to prepare for their future care needs, which is the right direction for government policy. But governments generally 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.

If the private sector can get this right, governments should be able to as well.

Many factors, including aches and pains, serious illness and physical appearance can cause people to feel their age, or older. Conversely, fitness and wellbeing, mental alertness and a sense of purpose encourage people to feel younger.

Because subjective age studies over the past two decades have consistently shown that self-perception of age is a powerful predictor of a person's wellbeing and longer life, there's sound reasons for governments and the community to take a fresh look at how they treat older people.

If they come up with fresh, less-stereotyped approaches, it will end up saving them money.

Professor John McCallum is research director at National Seniors Australia.

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