‘Active ageing’ is a key concept in current policy and research on ageing and yet is under-analysed or interpreted largely within an economic framework. This paper explores active ageing in the broader context of older people's lives. Drawing on a series of biographical interviews with 23 people aged 60–96 years, the discussion focuses on the theme of future hopes and concerns. Exhortations for ‘active ageing’ may be challenged by a lifelong unwillingness to look forward or plan ahead. Nevertheless, the findings show that fears for a future of limited resources, decline and dependency can exist alongside not only the desire to live longer but also the positive anticipation of forthcoming events and strong inter-generational relations. ‘Living for now’ and ‘taking a day at a time’ – and by extension the accomplishment of everyday activities rather than the activity-driven goals of earlier years – are common strategies for dealing with the unpredictability of later life. In this respect, even stopping paid work and entering residential care may be actively chosen and empowering even though they are steps towards disengagement and dependency. Similarly, planning for death, such as writing (living) wills and making funeral arrangements, may be positive and proactive responses to beliefs and concerns about dying. ‘Active ageing’ therefore needs to offer choices for life to be lived at all stages whilst recognising that much of the focus for older people is on ordinary needs, deeds and relationships.
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