Britain's over-60s are still getting around

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 29 June 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:1632

Most people over the age of 60 are sufficiently mobile to look after themselves and their homes without any difficulty, according to a new report. Even among those aged 80 or older, the majority can still get out and walk down the road.

The report, compiled by the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology, King's College, London, examined data from the 1991 census and seven major national surveys, including the general household and family expenditure surveys.

It found that nine out of 10 elderly people over the age of 65 see relatives or friends at least once a month, with a third of those over 60 having daily contact with a daughter.

Relatives provide most of the help with domestic chores and personal tasks, but older people are themselves often carers: those aged between 55 and 69 are far more likely to give help to children and parents than to receive it.

But the picture is not all rosy. All disabled men and four fifths of disabled women over the age of 80 living at home said that they sometimes sat for hours doing nothing, with half finding it hard to stir themselves. The report also found that half of the older people had no access to a car and were the group least likely to have central heating, a microwave oven, or a washing machine.

The authors emphasise throughout the substantial differences between younger and older elderly people, but on the whole their report dispels myths about later life as inevitably a time of inactivity. They say: “Although it is clear that as men and women reach very late life their activities become more circumscribed, in earlier late life their mobility and task capacity are unimpaired and show them well able to be involved beyond their own home and household, in work, care giving, sport, and recreations.” A few people continued paid work until they were 80.—CLAUDIA COURT, BMJ

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