It is time to take action to support older people’s health at work

Poor health is one of the biggest factors causing people to leave work earlier than they would like to; yet poor health isn’t an inevitable part of ageing. We know that health conditions can become more likely as we get older. While some health conditions are not any more likely the older you get, others certainly are. Musculoskeletal conditions (affecting joints, bones and muscles) and heart and circulatory conditions increases significantly as we age. The fact that 14 percent of all 50-64 year olds have a musculoskeletal condition, and that musculoskeletal conditions alone account for 30 million days of sickness absence each year, is significant. People are by impacted by health conditions in different ways, and you can have a dramatically different outcome depending on how early you spot and take action to address a health issue at work. Sometimes slow-onset physical conditions such as musculoskeletal conditions, might start off mildly, but gradually lead to a painful exit from work. Because they change slowly they are more difficult to identify and there isn’t always a clear trigger point to do something about them.

Human nature often means we don’t react until it is too late. This can be accentuated by our own stereotypes about ageing. Culturally many of us are inclined to believe that aches and pains are just a part of getting older. People say they ‘mustn’t grumble’. However, ‘grumbling’ is very important when it comes to health in the workplace. If you are informed, do something about it, talk to your employer about the adjustments that can be made to support you, you can greatly improve your chances of managing a health condition at work.

Ask for something to change if you’re stretching too far, the chances are if you are finding something difficult others will too. Take that desk assessment, don’t ignore that niggle or pain or ache, make a small adjustment to the way you do things, seek out advice or support. Your future self might just thank you.

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Patrick Thomson is Senior Programme Manager at the Centre for Ageing Better.

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