I have just seen a post on Facebook which quotes:
‘The older you get the more you realise that you have no desire for drama, conflict or any kind of intensity. You just want a cosy home, good food on the table and be surrounded by lovely people who make you happy.’
My first reaction was – yes, but is it really that simple? In our western culture it seems that even as we age a lot of us still want a lot more than that. It’s not enough to have a comfortable home, enough food and friends – a lot of us strive to look youthful and catch up on the things we feel we missed out on in our youth. In addition, there is a perception that ageing is depressing because we lose so much, hence the clamour for youth-enhacing potions, treatments and clothes. Image is very important now and many people strive for a more youthful look. Some of the connotations of age are clear in the language we use about older people, in particular women. For instance, the phrase”little old lady” is bandied around and although it’s often said fondly, it also picks up on the fact that because of bone degeneration most of us are smaller in old age than in our youth. By putting older females into the same category, it doesn’t allow for any individualism.
It’s quite possible that the media’s portrayal of ageing has influeced society’s views regarding an ageing population. News items, television, advertising and films often feature stereotypes that emphasise the ‘burdens’ of growing old. Negative language reinforces attitudes to growing older and then by extension to population-ageing. If people repeatedly hear that older people are useless and non-contributing members of society, they may well start to perceive themselves in that way. In addition, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Traditionally, the care of elder members of a family was the responsibility of other younger family members within an extended family environment. However, this is often no longer the case in the UK and increasingly, care is provided by the state or by using the older person’s savings.
According to research (Cox, Abramson, Devine and Hollon. 2012), the elderly are at risk regarding depression simply because there is a lot of prejudice about ageing. People who held more ageist attitudes when younger, turn these prejudices inward when they become elderly themselves. However, other research carried out by University College London found that on the whole, ageing can be a very positive experience for a lot of us. The interesting facts about this study by Edlira Gjonca were:
- On the whole, wealth doesn’t affect peoples’ experiences and perceptions of growing older.
- The future status of their health is a very important concern for most people.
- Wealthier people are likely to say that old age begins later and middle-age ends later, independent of their gender or age.
- Most people would like to be younger than their actual age (do we know anyone who thinks otherwise?!).
I think most of us would add to those facts by saying that one of the most important things about ageing is to feel that you’re still needed but most of all, you’re loved – either by family, friends or animals. If we feel loved, we’re blessed and no amount of money can replicate that, whatever our age.
If you feel fearful about ageing or are feeling particularly lonely and isolated taking positive steps to make the most of your life right now, even if it’s particularly restrictive due to Covid-19, may help. Accessing online courses or planning for some treats in the months to come will distract you if the thought of getting older is getting you down. Counselling might also help as you can talk about your concerns with someone who’s trained to listen without judgement and work out some coping strategies.
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