Mayor Andy Burnham has committed to pioneering a new positive vision of ageing. Greater Manchester is working to become the UK’s first age-friendly city region, one which values older people and celebrates the fact that people are living longer. To achieve this goal we need to challenge assumptions about older people, go beyond stereotypes, and think differently – including around older people as sexual beings.
To be age-friendly we also need to examine our systems and practices. That’s why the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub has been set up, part of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, tasked with coordinating a strategic response to the opportunities and challenges of an ageing population in our city region. It is through the Hub’s partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University
and the University of Manchester that we are able to draw on this world-leading research evidence to open the debate around relationships in later life and facilitate systems change.
The testimony of people as they get older is that love and affection remain important to their quality of life. The research shows that partnered intimate relationships provide tangible benefits to wellbeing, happiness, and physical and mental health. Fundamentally, this is a public health issue, and we need to recognise the broader health benefits of loving partnerships, including in lowering social isolation and decreasing use of health care services.
‘I think young people should be made to see that love and sex for older people is normal and not a joke’ Woman, 80+, English Longitudinal Study of Ageing
Normalising conversations around sex and intimacy in later life is key to changing mind sets and creating a more positive narrative around ageing. This is true for family and friends as much as for healthcare professionals, service commissioners and policy makers. With the data suggesting over half of men and a third of women over the age of 70 are still sexually active, it’s important to recognise that many older people will have sexual health needs. Sexual function does vary as people age. Where there is dysfunction, older people should be able to access the support they need to correct this – and this means healthcare professionals need to be prepared to start the conversation.
The extensive media coverage of Josie Tetley and Dave Lee’s Valentine’s report ‘How long will I love you? Sex and intimacy in later life’ demonstrates the significant public interest in this topic. Whilst millions read about the research in national newspapers, yet the Ageing Hub and universities struggled to get attendees for a policy briefing event earlier this month.
Whilst significant inequalities do exist, overall current generations of older people are healthier than those of the past, and this means re-examining our approach. Twenty years from now, 1.1 million people in GM will be over 50 accounting for 37% of the population, with the number of over 65s expected to increase by 44% by 2028.
As the population of our city-region ages, it’s time for us all to sit up and take action. Let’s watch the research film, take note of the research findings, and let’s think about older people differently and be prepared to start the conversation. It’s time for policy makers, commissioners and those providing services to older people to think more broadly about the wider health and wellbeing needs in later life. This is an area where we can make all make real difference to make Greater Manchester a better place to grow old.
About Paul McGarry
Paul McGarry is the Head of the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub, part of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority tasked with making Greater Manchester the UK’s first Age-Friendly city region. Since 2003 he has led the Age Friendly Manchester Programme at Manchester City Council, formerly called Valuing Older People. Under Paul’s leadership, Manchester became the first UK city to achieve WHO Age Friendly status and was a founding member of both the WHO’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities and the UK Network of Age-Friendly Cities.