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Do you really want to live forever? Later Living and the importance of ageing well.

I am currently in the middle this year's ARCO conference: ‘Building tomorrow - creating housing and care options for all’. If you haven't been before, I thoroughly recommend it. It is always a fascinating few days.

The key note speaker this year is Peter Ward, a journalist and author, who gave a really compelling talk about the hidden costs of chasing immortality. After all, who wants to live forever?  I cannot think of a single fictional example of immortality that ends well.*

Living and ageing well, however, is quite another matter. A healthy, independent later-life, is something we can all agree is worth having. Even if it does make for less exciting Sci-Fi series**

Indeed, how we can build environments that support living well, has been a key theme of today's conference.  Speakers have discussed everything from:

  • The financial and social benefits of intergenerational living schemes;
  • How we meet the needs of those ageing without children; 
  • Changing approaches to caring for the older population in Asia; and
  • The changing regulatory, legal and political framework in the UK.

The stand out presentation, however, was given by a resident of an IRC, who presented a slide that summed up the purpose of the entire sector. In short, the need to improve people's quality of life by prolonged the time that they can live independently.

The reasons for doing this are both compelling and a little terrifying. Not only is it the right thing to do, from a social and moral perspective, but it is necessary. 

The demographics of the UK are changing. We are a rapidly ageing society. According to the 2023 edition of Age UK’s State of Health and Care Report, last year there were 11 million people aged over 65 in England. By 2028, it will be 12.1 million people. By 2043, 14.5 million. 

At the same time, our working age population is shrinking, which means that the tax base to support the needs of our older population is not growing in line with the demand for those services.

Helping people age well, to live independently for longer, in appropriate and suitable housing is vital if we are going to manage the huge societal change that we are all living through.

If we don't grapple with the challenge, then frankly we are in a lot of trouble.

The dual crises in our housing and social care sectors are intimately connected to the demographic shifts in our society. As are the pressures on our health system.

Creating communities that provide age appropriate housing and support, which people actually want to move to, is a vital part of addressing these issues. 

Each resident that moves into age-appropriate housing, releases their former family home onto the market. This helps keep the housing ladder moving.

Research has shown that those living in age appropriate housing have better health outcomes, feel less isolated and live independently for longer than those who remain in their family homes beyond the point where it is safe for them to do so. This reduces pressure on the NHS and local authorities' social care budgets.

This is a nut we need to crack. A problem we need to solve. We need to get this right. Otherwise, those depressing, dystopian sci-fi stories I mentioned earlier maybe a bit more realistic than we would like.

After all, to quote a popular song*! that has been stuck in my head all day:

Forever young
I want to be forever young
Do you really want to live forever?
Forever, and ever






*I have been wracking my brains and frankly it is all fairly dystopian. From Dracula and Frankenstein, to Altered Carbon, Harry Potter and Torchwood: Miracle Day. The general consensus is that consequences of immortality are pretty horrific.

** but some cracking murder mystery novels.

*! Released by Alphaville in 1984 (the year I was born) and ironically now 40 years old.