Several older people smiling after sea swimming as part of the CHILL project

Become Part of the Live Longer Better Movement in Devon

Ahead of the Live Longer Better Devon conference on the 28th of September 2022, Active Devon’s Gareth Dix writes about what ‘a life well-lived’ means to him and to others. He also explains why it’s so important for us to learn and understand what it means to ‘age-well’ in Devon and identify the barriers preventing this. As Gareth says: “we all have a responsibility, a responsibility not only to ourselves but to each other in enabling lives to be well-lived.”

How Would You Describe a Life Well-Lived?

Earlier this year I travelled to Wales to spend time with my 90-year-old Aunty Pam in her care home. I was taken into a special room by a nurse and when my Aunty arrived a radiant smile burst in and a “well hello Gareth!” burst out! (Imagine Welsh accent).

It was a huge surprise to myself and the nurse that I was even recognised, despite her advanced dementia. As we sat together it felt right to hold her hand. You could see how human touch was bringing her some comfort.

Sadly, in minutes Aunty Pam had disappeared into the fog of dementia. Yet in the moment of her drifting away I was no longer holding her hand, but she began holding mine. In some way Aunty Pam was still there. And now I felt comfort and assurance from her.

In the quiet I reflected on my memories of my Aunty. I had heard many of my family say how her life was a “life well-lived.” A Welsh Aunty, who picked up the responsibility of caring for my own mum through long-illness, and after the loss of her Police Officer husband whilst on duty, took herself to London to start a new life.

I have heard the words “a life well-lived” so much recently as we have been thinking about Her Majesty The Queen. The term is interesting like an unwritten agreement of opinion binding us together.

It made me stop and wonder what ‘a life well-lived’ means, so, I took the opportunity to ask some colleagues and friends what they thought. Much of the feedback had connotations of longevity “it’s a long life, with lots of friends and experiences” and “a life where you made a difference.”

Some responses were more around characteristics “a sense of humour is really important,” “being resilient and flexible,” “having purpose and meaning” and “having deep connections.”

Others said, “it’s when you’re able to spend lots of time outside getting active, breathing the fresh air and taking care of our world” and one colleague talked about “feeling part of a society that you care for, and cares for you.”

Supporting Later Life Audiences in Devon

It led me to consider our work in Devon where we have a focus on the contributory role of physical activity in a life well-lived. Active Devon has a vision to see everyone having the opportunity to be active for life with a supporting mission to unlock the ability of movement to change lives for the better.

To do this our work prioritises tackling inequality through place and partner approaches underpinned by some core themes. One of which is supporting ‘Later Life’ audiences. As part of this it is so important for us to learn and understand what it means to age-well in Devon and identify the barriers preventing a life well-lived.

We recognise that conditions and systems in which people live across Devon are different and not equal. And of course, our own mindsets have a part to play – we all think and act differently in relation to the concept of ageing.

We all want to live longer and live better but how can we help ourselves and help others towards living a longer and better life?

Join the Devon-Wide Conversation

To explore this more we have organised the free online ‘Live Longer Better Devon’ conference. And we are really excited about it. It is a start of our Devon-wide conversation.

The challenge is clear. In Devon 24% of the population is 65 and over, way above the national average of 18%. The Active Lives Survey shows us a considerable difference in inactivity levels as we age, with the proportion of inactive people in Devon nearly doubling between 65 years and 75 years.

And according to the Devon Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, in 2018 there were over 3600 admissions to Devon Accident & Emergency departments because of falls, and nearly 6% of over 60s living with dementia.

To help us in our thinking as we pick up these challenges, we are delighted to be welcoming Sir Muir Gray as a keynote speaker. Sir Muir is not only the founder of the Live Longer Better movement but also the author of the book ‘Sod 70!’.

I asked Sir Muir what a life well-lived meant to him and he replied:

“It’s having purpose into older life, a sense of achievement, it’s good for us to be serving, and in a challenging role and no one demonstrated this better than the late Queen.”

Alongside Sir Muir we have Dr Lincoln Sargeant joining us. Dr Lincoln is Director of Public Health with Torbay Council and answering the question of what is ‘a life well-lived’ he said:

“Where I can develop my talents and skills and use the resources available to me to make a difference in my sphere of influence.”

Difference making being at the core of living-well.

The call came recently that my Aunty Pam had breathed her last, with dignity and her family around her. As I continue reflecting on the life of Aunty Pam, and of Her Majesty The Queen I have noticed something about the value they placed on taking responsibility for themselves and servanthood to others.

I think I have come to my own conclusion that we all have a responsibility not only to ourselves but to each other in enabling lives to be well-lived.

When Aunty Pam held my hand in that nursing home, we both felt less isolated, as if we were both looking after each other, like a mutual responsibility.

Perhaps, this is our purpose.

Do join us and become part of the Live Longer Better movement in Devon.

Written by Gareth Dix – Director of Strategic Relationships at Active Devon.