Some twenty years ago my wife and I lived in the North London suburb of Muswell Hill. I was very fond of the place: we had a lively community and a good bunch of neighbours. There was a vacant site at the end of our street and McCarthy & Stone purchased it and built a large retirement home. It was opened by the Beverley sisters, a female singing group prominent in the 1950s. Several weeks before the opening ceremony McCarthy & Stone sensibly invited all of us who lived in the street to an informal tea at the home to see the facilities: presumably, to forestall any potential objections on parking and traffic.
One of my neighbours was a likeable alpha male in his 50s with huge energy. The effect of the visit on him was devastating. He had glimpsed the future and it terrified him. He reacted by buying a motorbike and embarking on an injudicious relationship that eventually led to the end of his marriage. He simply could not face the prospect of a sedentary life in old age – however comfortable his surroundings.
The fact is that, if we are lucky to live long enough, we will all need to adjust to our declining powers. To pretend that this won’t happen is an act of irresponsibly towards the generations that follow. I’ve recently encountered the concept of ‘advance care planning’. It is a clumsy phrase with both a narrow and a wider meaning. The narrow meaning is about palliative care for the terminally ill; the wider meaning embraces the financial and organisational implications of ageing – the need to make a will and ensure that we minimise the problems of our own old age and its impact on our families. Evidently some people find facing the prospect of decline more difficult than others but we should all consider advance care planning.