Defining old

Older Australians who took part in the Older and Wiser project said there are different groups of older adults. These are:

  • younger, older people who are between 65 to 75 years of age
  • older people aged between 75 to 85 years
  • older, older people, who are aged 85 years and above

Why develop information resources just for older people?

People who took part in the Older and Wiser project explained that cancer patients aged over 65 years can be affected by different issues to those experienced by younger adults. For example, they may:

  • be retired from paid work, and so need to consider costs for treatment, for travelling to treatment, or accommodation if they need to go to cancer centres a long distance from home
  • not be living independently, or may be dependent on a family member to get them to the hospital and look after them at home
  • be caring for an older unwell partner while trying to cope with their own illness and treatment
  • be caring for grandchildren or great grandchildren which may influence the kind of treatment they choose or where they receive care, and
  • be experiencing one or more other health issues that complicates their ability to cope with a diagnosis of cancer and its treatments.

Ageing is a natural process

As we get older, the cells and tissues in our body change and age. Our vital organs (such as our heart, kidneys, liver) and joints function less effectively, due to normal wear and tear.

The rate at which these ageing processes happen varies from person to person.

Having a healthy lifestyle, good diet, regular exercise and spending time with other people can improve our ability to function well in older age.

It is important to remember that our age in years is not a reliable indicator of our health. A person’s age in numbers (their chronological age) may not compare well with how their body functions (their biological or functional age).

Chronological age versus functional age

A person who is 85 years of age may be found (during a health examination) to have body function more like that of a person who is 65 years of age. It is therefore important that decisions about a persons’ ability to cope with treatment, or their preferences for cancer treatment, is not made based only on their age in years (chronological age).

It can be difficult for members of the cancer team to assess a person’s level of function and capacity to cope with cancer treatment. People may look frail but may be functioning quite well, or they may look well but not be strong functionally.

Being lonely or isolated or experiencing financial difficulties can also impact how well a person is able to cope with a diagnosis of cancer and its treatments.

This is why sharing as much information about your health and wellbeing with your cancer team, before you start treatment, is very important.