Despite the fact that health is at the centre of life’s experience, it remains an elusive concept, more easily defined negatively, as the absence of disease, than positively. While the concept of health has an absolute ring to it-we all seem to know what it means even if we cannot quite say what it is-it also changes with circumstances and, most importantly, with age. The social meanings attached to health in childhood, in middle age and in old age, vary considerably. Expectations alter with changing phases of the life course. What would not be tolerated in earlier life may be accepted with the passing of the years, though this assumption needs careful scrutiny.