It is a problem that successive governments have failed to tackle, knowing its potential to blow up in their face. Let’s hear it, then, for one initiative that will feed positively into the debate.

This May the UK Funders’ Forum on Ageing Research will meet in The Hague. A low profile alliance of three government departments and seven charities, chaired by Help the Aged’s Michael Lake, CBE, it will facilitate a workshop sponsored by Unilever. On the agenda is discussion, together with expert scientists from around the world, on the future of ageing research.

There are a number of questions to be answered. Should people work beyond retirement age? What are the implications? How much is it going to cost us — through taxes, private insurance and such like — to manage our health care?

According to the 2005 report ‘Facts and Misunderstandings About Age, Health Status and Employability’ by the Age Partnership Group, managed by the government’s Department for Work and Pensions, “Older workers are not less productive...productivity cannot be used as an excuse to justify the exclusion of older workers from the workforce.”

Which is all to the good, because legislation changes this year will require UK companies to allow more staff to work beyond current retirement age. And they are expected to be productive and valuable contributors to the UK’s economy and society.

Such facts help us avoid unbalanced typecasting of older people as very dependent or even a burden, which can occur in pension or healthcare debates. The tremendous and extensive contribution older people make through their — usually unpaid — work providing care for others is also often forgotten.

Help the Aged is working hard to change perceptions. It is currently backing 40 studies into ageing, on projects ranging from ‘Why does dietary restriction extend lifespan?’ to ‘Identifying the best way to stay fit and healthy as we get older’. Its view is that, even though breakthroughs or discoveries of new treatments are not always possible, at least it can ensure that it selects studies that will uncover new knowledge and move science forward.

So if toiling in the twilight of your years, reflect that you’re probably in ruder health than if you’d stopped. Who wants to fall into the category of those we know — at first or second hand — who expire before they get into the swing of their retirement?