Men in the UK aged 65 can expect to live their last 7.4 years with reduced mobility or a disability. Women in the UK aged 65 can expect to live their last 9.4 years with reduced mobility or a disability (Source: AGE UK).
Interestingly, psychology plays a major part in how we age. For instance, social psychology studies have demonstrated that how society views ageing will influence many in society. On an individual level, other research has shown that how people view old age will often influence how they age. A simple example is where people who anticipate being less physically able in later life will buy a bungalow in retirement. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because they have no stairs to climb every day.
Intelligent ageing refers to the process of ageing in a way that maximizes cognitive and physical health and maintains overall well-being throughout the lifespan. It is a concept that has gained popularity in recent years as people have become more aware of the importance of healthy ageing and its impact on their quality of life.
Many factors contribute to intelligent ageing, including genetics, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors. While some of these factors are beyond our control, there are many steps we can take to optimise our chances of ageing well.
One of the most important things we can do to promote intelligent ageing is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, and avoiding harmful behaviours such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Exercise has been shown to be particularly important for cognitive health, as it can improve memory, attention, and overall brain function. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can also help protect against cognitive decline, as can reducing the intake of saturated and trans fats. Compelling recent research has shown that highly processed foods can impair brain function and contribute to cognitive decline. Well established is the fact that the gut is the ‘second brain’, and its health can affect mood.
Another key aspect of intelligent ageing is staying socially connected. Humans are social creatures, and social isolation has been linked to various negative health outcomes, including cognitive decline. By staying engaged with family, friends, and community groups, we can help to maintain our cognitive and emotional health as we age.
In addition to these lifestyle factors, there are also many other interventions that can help to promote intelligent ageing. For example, cognitive training programs have improved memory, attention, and other cognitive skills in older adults. These programs typically involve exercises challenging the brain, such as memory games and problem-solving activities. Most important of these is learning a new language or learning to play a musical instrument.
Other interventions that may benefit intelligent ageing include mindfulness meditation, which has been shown to reduce stress and improve cognitive function, and sleep hygiene, which involves practising good sleep habits such as avoiding screens before bedtime and creating a relaxing sleep environment.
Ultimately, intelligent ageing is about proactively approaching our health and well-being as we age. By making healthy lifestyle choices and engaging in interventions promoting cognitive and physical health, we can increase our chances of ageing well and maintaining our independence and quality of life as we age. The knowledge exists, but too many people have not taken advantage of it. The counsellor’s role is key in supporting the client’s motivation and identifying psychological blocks to truly caring for themselves.
© Dr Robert Owen, 2023