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News

Eighty is the new 40 as octogenarians embrace life

Bríd Rodgers
Seanín Graham

WHEN former SDLP minister Bríd Rodgers turned 40 she thought it was "terrible" - but in her eightieth year life has "never been better" with daily power walks, trips to Italy, swims in Donegal beaches and the odd whiskey nightcap.

The mother-of-six and grandmother-of-16 joins a growing number octogenarians who are redefining old age.

As baking queen Mary Berry pulls in millions of viewers to her weekly hit television programme, actress Joan Collins and broadcaster Joan Bakewell also show no signs of slowing down.

Research released yesterday revealed that the number of people aged over 80 in Northern Ireland has increased by a quarter in little more than a decade.

For the former SDLP deputy leader and civil rights activist, retirement has given Ms Rodgers the "freedom" to "get and go where she pleases".

The former language teacher admitted that while she enjoyed her stellar political career, her "life was not her own".

"I now walk briskly three to four miles a day, I still play a bit of golf, I swam in the sea in Gweedore every day during the summer and I love going to Italy every year to keep up the language," she said.

"When I was in politics I wouldn't have had the time to do any of that. I realise I am very lucky and lots of people my age aren't as active but when the spirit is willing I feel I can do it.

"I had a knee replacement seven years ago but it never held me back. I really can't believe I'm 80 and I certainly don't feel it. I think it's great I'm still here."

Ms Rodgers, who has lived in Lurgan since 1960 but is originally from Gweedore, represents an increasing number of the population aged 80 and over who now living longer than a decade ago.

Research carried out by the the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) reveals that 72,800 people were aged 80 and over in 2014 - a 25.5 per cent increase on the 2004 figure of 58,000.

Meanwhile, the number of people aged 85 and over has grown by around 1,000 people each year in the last decade.

While the north had the lowest proportion of people aged 85 and over (1.9 per cent) in mid-2014 compared to England, Scotland and Wales, it has experienced the highest level of growth in this population in the past 10 years, at more than 40 per cent.

Concerns about the ageing population and pressures on an over-stretched health service are continually in the headlines, with NHS-run residential care homes currently under threat of closure.

For Ms Rodgers, "home is the best place to be cared in" - if possible.

"I think it's much better if people can stay in their homes for as long as they can but I know this isn't always the case and something that needs much investment by the health service."

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