What are old people for?

What are old people for?
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John Wyatt
John Wyatt Dr John Wyatt is Emeritus Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at UCL and author of multiple books on end-of-life and ethical issues.
04 September, 2023 6 min read

The following is an edited extract from The Final Lap by John Wyatt, by kind permission of 10 Publishing.

As we make the transition from paid employment to retirement, it seems to me that the question ‘What are old people for?’ takes on new relevance. Let’s explore a number of ways in which older people are able to make a special contribution to those around them.


When we are in the midst of our working lives, making space and time for people can seem almost impossible. I remember occasions when my wife and I had to plan months ahead just to find time to meet up with friends or invite someone for a meal.

But now that I am no longer in full-time employment, it has become much easier to make myself available to others at short notice. And in our busy, pressurised, and demanding world, when so many working people are barely hanging on by their fingertips, having older people around who are prepared to make themselves available becomes a vital ministry.

It’s a gift that we can offer to others. We don’t have to have specialised skills in counselling or pastoral care. We just need to be able to be there, to offer a listening ear and an encouraging word.

Life wisdom

It’s often been said that ‘We live life forwards but we understand it backwards’. And I for one am grateful for the (albeit limited) wisdom and insights that I have gained over the last 70 years of my life.

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