“More people will reach their 65th birthday in the UK this year than at any other point in history.”
So starts the Mental Health Foundation’s latest report, Getting On…with life, which looks at how our baby boomer generation can maintain good mental health as they age. Those born between 1946 and 1955 are a unique and diverse group: growing up during post-war austerity and then becoming young adults during a time of significant economic, political and social liberalisation and change.
Using interviews, national surveys and the English Longitudinal Study of ageing (ELSA), the report highlights some new challenges and opportunities for us as we plan how this generation can stay healthy and connected in later life. This blog picks out a few:
“Baby boomers are likely to become carers in large numbers”
Many baby boomers are already taking on caring roles, often for their parents. But provision of care for spouses and partners will also probably become their responsibility in the future. Becoming a carer is a significant trigger for loneliness and isolation and often leads to decreasing social networks, less free time and worsening mental health.
Statutory services and local government therefore need to work with carer support groups and charities to ensure all carers are offered not just financial or care support, but can maintain and make relationships outside of their caring role.
“The risks posed by family breakdown and community disengagement are significant”
Significant social changes were happening as the baby boomers became adults – and laws on divorce, abortion and contraception were liberalised. They were generally married young but by 2005 only 6 in 10 people were married to their first spouse, and 1 in 6 had remarried. Almost a quarter of women, and 1 in 6 men, in this generation are now single, divorced or widowed.
The report also found that relationship breakdown could mean connections to children were also lost. Data from ELSA also suggested that this generation are “less involved” with civic, faith and leisure activities, and may have less developed social networks that their parents’ generation.
We all – from individuals to social care services – need to take into account these changing family structures and friendships and the large-scale impact they might have on the baby boomer’s ability to maintain relationships and stay connected – particularly when other risk factors (such as ill health) start to occur.
“Most will have adequate retirement resources”
The research suggests that the abolition of the default retirement age and existing resources (such as housing, wealth and savings) could mean most baby boomers will have adequate financial resources as they age. Material deprivation is a significant trigger of loneliness and physical isolation, particularly in older age. If baby boomers can be supported to manage their existing financial resources, this is one risk factor that could be avoided for many of this generation.
“They have changed every station of life they have passed through”
The baby boomer generation will not want services or policies that are designed for them, without them. This could require a significant culture shift from statutory and voluntary sector organisations that will ensure baby boomers are meaningfully involved in shaping their lives and environments. As the Mental Health Foundation put it, “this means involving and engaging them at all levels.”
To read the full report, visit the Mental Health Foundation’s website: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/getting-on-full-report/