Skip to content
Please donate

Age UK warns of the risks of getting into a self-destructive rut as we age, with widespread ageism being a big part of the problem

Published on 22 March 2018 01:03 AM

Approaching one and a half million over-65s feel they don't have control of their lives, and almost a million say that life rarely or never has any meaning for them.

New analysis from Age UK shows that almost one and half million over-65s (1.465m) feel that what happens in their life is determined by factors beyond their control. Almost a million (936,642) say that their life rarely or never has any meaning.

These feelings are more prevalent among the oldest age groups, with nearly 1 in 5 over-85s thinking their life rarely or never has meaning, compared to 1 in 10 aged 55-65.

Age UK is therefore calling on everyone to do more to support older people in recognising their self-worth, as well as calling on older people themselves to try to take steps to avoid getting into a self-destructive rut, from which it can be extremely difficult to escape.

'Struggling to cope' - new Age UK report

A new Age UK report, 'Struggling to Cope with Later Life', explores these issues in greater depth and includes a checklist of top tips for older people and those around them, on how to avoid getting dragged down as they age, and how to get to a better place again if this happens.

Based on interviews with older people, the research finds that some who have led busy and purposeful lives can end up feeling that their contributions are long forgotten and that they don't count for anything anymore.

The interviewees explain how they struggle to connect to the wider world and lack motivation to look after themselves, potentially undermining their health as a result. All these people lacked hope that life could change for the better, and they were well and truly 'stuck' in the difficult situations they were in, despite in some cases the efforts of others around them – professionals, families and friends - to help.

Big life events can affect older people's emotional wellbeing

In many cases the experience of difficult events in later life such as bereavement or redundancy had brought on their sense of malaise, but for some battling these feelings had been a life-long challenge which they had brought with them into old age.

Against this context it is important to note that depression affects 22% of men and 28% of women aged 65 plus and that 85% of older people with depression receive no help at all from the NHS, so these are really big problems for a significant proportion of older people in this country.

Ageism really hurts some older people

The interviews with older people in the report showed that another factor dragging them down was their perception that our society does not really value older people, and generally takes a highly negative view of ageing. This formed the difficult backdrop to the problems they themselves were experiencing and helped to compound them, intensifying their feelings of hopelessness.

Whereas more resilient older people may be able to shrug such negative perceptions off, these more vulnerable individuals were clearly unable to do so.

Age UK is therefore hoping that the report will raise public awareness that ageism really hurts some older people and diminishes their quality of life.

Age UK's tips for older people stuck in a rut

Age UK's top tips for older people who get stuck in a rut and those who care about them or work with them are:

  1. Listen to older people's histories and value their contributions
  2. Understand the causes and spot the danger signs
  3. Use a person-centred approach that starts where older people are
  4. Family and friends can be a life line – support them to be so
  5. Find a way to return purpose to life
  6. Emotional support often needs backing up with practical action
  7. Professionals can make a big difference – but need the time to be able to do so

'Everyone deserves to be valued, regardless of their age'

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK's Charity Director said: 'Everyone has their off days, but for a significant minority of older people life appears to hold very little meaning or pleasure at all, and an unfortunate few get stuck in a self-destructive rut from which they just cannot escape. It is in all our interests to change this and Age UK is firmly of the view that everyone deserves to be valued for who they are today, as well as who they have been in the past and may become in the future, regardless of their age.'

'We can all do more to support older people we know and even when an older person has lost hope there are things that can be done to help, practically and emotionally, as our report shows. But perhaps the most important message from our research is that we all need to realise that the ageism that is all too frequent in our society does real harm to some older people and makes them miserable and even unwell, even if more resilient older individuals are apparently unscathed.

'It's brilliant that in many ways our society is a lot more tolerant and inclusive than it has ever been before, and yet it is still seen as socially acceptable by some to stereotype and denigrate older people in ways that would be considered totally unacceptable if the same behaviour occurred in the context of gender or race.

'Our report reinforces the fact that it's high time ageism was consigned to the past, along with all other forms of discrimination.'

In their own words - older people share their feelings

These quotes by older people are from the report 'Struggling to cope with later life':

  • 'Once you pass a certain age, you're written off, aren't you? People don't want to employ you. [You're] too old. Not very nice, is it?... The sooner you die, the less of a burden you are to society... That's what I am in reality.'
  • 'I'm so restricted and reliant on my daughter. Although she says she doesn't mind, for me that's not the point.'
  • 'Some days I think "I don't want to be here", I feel life would be easier for my son... I do rely on him a lot... It breaks my heart to think it feels as though his life is on hold for me...'
  • 'I was a bit of a social butterfly until about 7 years ago when I had to take in my grandchildren actually ... I just completely lost my social network...'
  • 'I have to snap myself out of it, go out for a walk or a wander....There are days where I could spend hours painting or drawing, keeping myself amused. Sometimes time can fly by - I can spend hours doing a painting or a picture. Then I'll get fed up with that. You have to motivate yourself don't you. But it is hard sometimes. You just let it go, let it go.'

Watch older people explaining how they feel

Visit our Struggling to cope page to watch older people explaining why they find it hard to ask for help, and difficult to motivate themselves. They also speak about their money worries and lack of self-worth.

Share this page

Last updated: Dec 05 2018

Become part of our story

Sign up today

Back to top