Ageism And Elderhood
“What we need is a radical reinterpretation of longevity that makes elders (and their needs) central to our collective pursuit of happiness and well-being”
Why don’t we celebrate old age joyously. embrace it and rejoice in it, like we celebrate youth? Ageing is as inevitable as wrinkles and death is a feature inbuilt in the design of all living things from microscopic organisms to plants, animals and human beings. So what is the point of denial? Why is there a proliferation of anti-ageing products? Emphasis on smooth skin and youthful qualities are giving impetus to this industry, projected to being worth 191.7 million dollars by 2019.
The Rise Of The Elderly The human life cycle is incomplete without experiencing the fourth stage of life called elderhood, after the end of adulthood. A champion for the cause of elderhood, Dr William Thomas says. “People of all ages will live better lives when we succeed in bringing elders back to the heart of our society.” His book ‘What are Old People For? ’focuses on how intergenerational connectedness gives meaning to living for all age groups. The all-pervading presence of people aged 65 and above is larger now, compared to any point in history and gives society a resource never seen before!
We see millions of experienced, wise, patient older citizens in good financial standing and excellent health than of the elderly from the previous generation. Quoting some statistical data from the United States, we see that half of every dollar spent is by a person older than 50 years of age.
The Ageism Problem
In 1968, Dr Robert Butler coined the word ‘ageism’ which has become the third ‘ism’ after racism and sexism. Ageism hurts society as a whole. It is visible in all aspects of society. Portrayals of incompetent older people in the media, phrases like the ‘grey tsunami’forecasting dire economic consequences due to aging, lack of gainful employment for older adults and the dismissal by professionals of the health care concerns of older adults as being attributed to age are just a few. Ageism is creeping into all aspects of society; even the 2016 US presidential race is not above it. Hilary Clinton’s candidature is being questioned as she turns 69 on Election Day next year.
For successful ageing to flourish, we need to combat ageism in workplace structures, policies and beliefs, discourage research that glorifies youth and conflates normal ageing with disease. Why are only the young considered as prototypical humans when the fastest growing segment is in the age group of 65 and older? Why not include older people in research on physical health, biological functioning and human behaviour? Older people are portrayed as needy and frail, with an over exaggeration of cognitive decline associated with normal ageing. However, research shows that our brain is constantly evolving and that an elder uses both sides of the brain, thus using the full spectrum of the brain power in decision making.
Research shows that our brain is constantly evolving and that an elder uses both sides of the brain, thus using the full spectrum of the brain power in decision making
Change In Perception Required
Ageing is seen as a stand-alone phenomenon happening to individuals, but this is a universal phenomenon. A focus on gerontology, trained geriatricians and enhancement of features that lead to high level functioning very late in life and getting these within the reach of the older population is the need of the hour. Longevity is here to stay, so we must work towards ending ageism.
Discriminatory social structures and erroneous beliefs attempt to shape our ageing. Let us tackle ageism with fervour. If marriage equality is worth a mention why not age equality? Death is associated with ageing and research shows that the elderly are not afraid of dying. People are happiest at the beginning and at the end of their lives (Blanchflower and Oswald 2008, Yang, 2008) age bestows more on an individual than it takes away. Once we are at peace with this, we will be able to tackle prejudices that go with age like, ‘wrinkles are ugly’ or even the linking of incompetence with old age.