An 86-year-old retired teacher, Mrs Matilda Ekpo-Andem, has been widowed since 56.
Her late husband, an engineer, died of prostate cancer after battling it for more than four years.
For 30 years now, she has had to navigate life on her own as her only daughter is married to a foreigner based in Austria.
For her, she has had a good run in life, building a few flats in Uyo and Port Harcourt and co-founding an educational institution in Abuja.
She also noted that she felt lucky to be alive, considering the country’s life expectancy rate, the passing of her husband and the absence of her child.
“The last time I saw my daughter was in 2015 when I went to visit her. She wasn’t really ‘home-grown’. She had only visited Nigeria thrice in all her lifetime and that was during her National Youth Service Corps programme, her wedding and when her father died. I am the one who goes to Austria to see her every time.
“I knew a day like this would come, where I would be alone without any family so I properly prepared for it. I made sure I lived my life to the fullest whilst also considering old age, knowing that it is an inevitable part of life, and the earlier young people begin to prepare for it, the better,” she said.
Her late husband, Mr Steph Ekpo-Andem, worked with a private equities firm in the United Kingdom for many years, which was where they met and built their lives before returning to Nigeria.
According to Matilda, Steph made sure he saved and invested his funds in equities, bought stocks in many companies and invested in real estate in developing cities.
She added that they proposed from an early stage that they would not have more than two children.
So, when their first son, Ofonime, died during a medical procedure when he was 12, Matilda said she and Steph decided to take care of their daughter.
“It was not like the wealth I have now has always been there. We had to build it systematically and make sure we were taking the right step.
“We also invested a lot in our health, working out and making sure we were fit. It became a culture. Before my husband died, he also had a will and testament already written, even if it was obvious that it was just our daughter and I who were his only known relatives.
“He was also very healthy when he wrote it, but we just had to prepare because we knew that death gives no knock on the door and as the day went by, we were ageing, and fast, too.
“It is the way you live your life as a young person that determines how you would spend your old age,” she added.
Macrotrends, an online statistics resource, while quoting figures from the United Nations, stated that the life expectancy for Nigeria in 2023 is 55.75 years, which is a 0.57 per cent increase from 2022.
In 2022, the figure was 55.44 years, a 0.57 per cent increase from 2021, which was set at 55.12 years.
Health authorities say the country’s life expectancy of 55 years ranks among the five lowest in the world. This means that ceteris paribus, most Nigerians may not get to age 60.
The World Bank, in its 2021 development report, stated that the population of Nigerians above 65 years was at 2.9 per cent.
As life expectancy continuously increases in both developing and developed countries, old people make up 12 per cent of the world’s population, and that number is predicted to be doubled by 2050 and tripled by 2100, according to official World Bank figures.
The Future Journal of Pharmaceutical Studies in a February 2022 report stated that preparing for ageing is investing resources in preparing to cope with the challenges expected to happen in old age. This will lead to an increase in the quality and well-being of ageing.
Experts have noted that preparing for healthy ageing is a multidimensional concept.
Today, the term “healthy ageing” is widely used and defined as a lifelong process for optimising opportunities to improve and maintain health, physical, social, and psychological well-being, independence, quality of life, and increasing the transition to a successful life.
As each stage of human development and growth is affected by the previous stage and affects the next stage, the quality of life in old age is affected by the lifestyle of an adult.
Middle age is a bridge between youth and ageing. This period of life is the largest vital part of adulthood due to increased life expectancy. This stage is the most golden and fertile period of life.
According to a United Kingdom-based Nigerian gerontologist, Nwakanma Eze, part of the logical reasons for encouraging planning for old is that many people in the middle of life are not prepared to face the challenges of the next period of their lives and hence become vulnerable.
He said, “Middle age is seen as an axial stage in life in which change can have a positive effect on the future. Preparing for ageing is investing resources in preparing to face the challenges that are expected to happen in old age. This can lead to increased quality of life and well-being in ageing.
“Preparation is a concept that is investigated in many studies as preparation for retirement, while retirement is part of ageing. These studies deal exclusively with preparing for events and challenges that happen directly and indirectly as you exit the job market.”
Preparing for change in old age instead of preparing for retirement, Eze noted, could be a more comprehensive solution.
She added that preparing for age-related change is not limited to old age itself, but should be a constant concern for the individual throughout life.
“Middle-aged adults and even younger ones should be involved in preparing for the expected changes in the future. However, as the distance from old age decreases, the preparation becomes more urgent and as a result more time is spent on it,” she stated.
Most studies on preparation for old age are related to the period after the entry of ageing.
For example, a nutritional biochemist, Suthee Rattanamongkolgul, in a 2021 report published in the Journal Nutritional Biochemistry, said preparing for ageing included attention to “physical health, spiritual health and readiness for death.”
In another study by Apouy et al. (2018), half of the people interviewed said they were preparing for old age in finance, housing, social life and health.
Eze stated that making mental health a priority could be a good way to start.
She stated that promoting mental health activities in middle age was important to have a good mental state in old age.
“Old age is a time to live happily, have a sense of peace in life, strengthen positive thinking, do pleasant things, prevent depression and avoid stress in life and anxiety,” she said.
A caregiver in the Naruto Care Centre for the Aged based in Rivers State, Mrs Adline Tombiri, said middle-aged people should begin to build what she termed ‘social connectedness’.
“To prevent the feeling of separation and loneliness in the period of old age, one should think about expanding the circle of communication from middle age. This subcategory includes concepts such as family communication, group orientation, having a companion, having good friends, and the desire to go to a nursing home due to loneliness,” she added.
She also stated that middle-aged Nigerians must create a sense of financial security way before they clocked 40.
Financial security in the middle-aged, according to her, included adequacy of savings, adequacy of pension rights, financial independence, adequacy of financial income, financial management of savings, investment, insurance, financial independence, and job security.
“Men and women still in middle age must begin to make financial commitments that would aid them when they get old.
“Enrolling in a pension scheme and adequately saving can be a great way to start,” she stated.
Tombiri also stressed the need for every young person to begin to plan to become a homeowner.
For her, the environment where a person lives undoubtedly has an effect on his/her health.
“Saving to buy a house and investing heavily in real estate between age 19 and age 45 and beyond is a fine way to start. Don’t wait till you have all the money, preparation begins one at a time,” she said.
A social worker with a global care firm, Mr Alex Farah, said preparing for ageing should begin with first accepting that it is inevitable.
“Avoiding the acceptance of ageing can create challenges for people when dealing with ageing. In this sub-category, not accepting ageing, being involved in other issues, and current problems, observing decreased physical ability, unplanned thinking, thinking with observing other ageing people, talking to family and spouse about plans, studying, and communicating with the ageing are mentioned,” he said.
He stressed that having a positive view of ageing could provide a platform for experiencing a good and healthy ageing period.
Positive views included achieving perfection, the usefulness of children, having grandchildren, remaining useful capacities, experience, accountability, and having enough time.
The expert also counselled that free time in old age should be spent to help others or improve society.
“Having a volunteering program in middle age to spend useful time in old age will be effective for healthy ageing. This section includes activities such as membership of social networks, social centres, membership of charity associations, assistance to nursing homes, guardianship of orphaned children, and some of the voluntary perceived barriers,” the expert added.
Regular exercise, according to Farah, would benefit young adults when they age.