Have you heard the good news? Quality of life peaks at 68 but is as high at 80 as it is at 50, according to the latest tranche of research by the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (Tilda), part of Trinity College Dublin.

From age 50 onwards, you can look forward to 18 years of things only getting better! If 68 sounds young for the decline to start, this research shows that it’s a slow decline. You’ll hardly notice it. You’ll hopefully be too busy playing tennis, golfing and volunteering.

I found the research particularly interesting this week because I attended my first Alzheimer’s Café. More on that later.

Freedom to do the things you want to do

The researchers scored people’s level of happiness on their reactions to statements like “I can do the things I want to do” and “I look forward to every day”.

It seems that, from 50 onwards, we start to do more of the things that make us happy. We’re less stressed at work, our kids are more independent, and we have more time to invest in hobbies and socialising.

The research compared the experience of current respondents with data included in previous waves of research began in 2009. Consequently, it’s able to compare how older adults have fared over the years in areas like physical activity, feelings of connectedness and health.

The report found that while there was no change in usage of community health services like respite, day centre, meals on wheels, occupational therapy or community nursing, there was a substantial increase in reliance on informal care, in other words, care from family or friends.

In the old days, it would have been called a meeting

This ‘Alzheimers Café’ I referred to earlier was an information evening (in the cafe of McAuley Place in Naas), on the ‘Fair Deal’ scheme.

The informal care structure was very much in evidence. Many of the people there were actively caring for a person with Alzheimer’s. This is a very tough station. They are in the thick of it. Caring for their loved ones takes up so much of their time, it is almost impossible to stand back and see where they are financially or make any plans for the future.

In many cases, they hadn’t put in place an enduring power of attorney while the patient was still of sound mind. The failure to do this effectively puts them in limbo when it comes to administering their incapacitated spouse’s or parent’s finances.

As for arranging their finances to tax-efficiently plan for full-time nursing home care through the Fair Deal scheme or otherwise, or home-care packages, it is often too late to start that by the time the illness becomes apparent.

There was another cohort there: people who have a friend, neighbour or relative that’s affected by such an illness.  These are the people who recognise that they can plan now to make things easier should anything like this befall them or a loved one in the future.

The moral of the study is this: don’t get caught out by a lack of planning.

A summary of the TILDA report Health and Wellbeing of Ireland’s over 50s 2009 / 2016 is here.

Start planning now.