The very notion of what old age is, is starting to change. Far from the staid confines of care homes, and the regime of being written off as the years advance, now people want to live, to have fun, to dance and enjoy an active life. What can lessons from around the world teach us?
Asia is perhaps the vanguard of how different thinking is necessary when it comes to dealing with an aging population. Both Japan and South Korea are facing a demographic time bomb, and so are being forced to reassess how people of advanced years are treated and considered within society.
The argument that old people are fit for nothing is changing. The notion that at 70 or 80 a person is only able to sit in a chair and stare out of a window is such a nonsense, that it is being challenged.
There is a rising tide of activities, services and products designed, marketed and provided for what has in the past been considered “old people”. The spending power, and the desire to get out and live a little is shaping a new way of seeing and understanding the effects of aging.
In South Korea there is a new movement sweeping cities, it is the growth of new districts which are catering for the needs, wants and desires of people in the 70s, 80s and even 90s. People of advanced years are clamouring for good times, and the market is giving them what they want.
DIGGING THE OLD SCENE
In the nondescript Seoul neighbourhood of Jongno, there is a revolution in entertainment going on. There are people dancing, eating, drinking, having fun. There are people tottering between bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
These are not youths, and it is not 5 in the morning. These are elderly people and it is 5 in the afternoon. There is an explosion of facilities providing what these people want.
There are nightclubs which play songs from the past, there are restaurants which serve foods which were all the rage in the 50s and 60s. There is a nostalgic market providing elderly people with the things which used to make them happy, and which are again.
The message is that life doesn’t much change unless we let it. So, these South Korean seniors have decided that they will continue to live, to move, dance, sing and love. They are not ready to take a back seat, they want to enjoy life.
The South Korean view is very much that if people stay at home alone, they feel depressed, and get dementia. But if they get out and get involved they make friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, drink a bit, and their problems get solved.
Sounds wholly sensible, and if you think that it is only South Korea you would be wrong. Quietly similar things are going on all over the world, but it seems there is a hesitancy to think of it as a movement or a necessary change to the way we consider and deal with old age.
In Liverpool, Newcastle, across many UK cities there are bars which cater for a more senior clientele. There is nothing like the joy of hearing a pub full of seniors singing, laughing and having fun.
In the USA, there are meal deals and all manner of recreational opportunities for the elderly. The problem is that there seems a reluctance to accept that such social activities are vitally important and can head of health issues. So, we need to think differently about age, its effects and how we deal with it.
Apparently at some of these senior discos (or Colatecs, as they are called) in Seoul there are people turned away for being too young. However, sadly there is still a negative perception and a sense that people should not be living like this.
It is sad, but according to reports some patrons have to keep their hobby a secret. In an interview, one lady in her 70s said: “Some people don’t tell their families they come here. But we’re not doing anything wrong, we just like dancing.”
Perhaps that is part of the secret…the fact that it is a secret. People are kept alive and vibrant by having something to fight for. It’s no wonder perhaps that the South Korean seniors have a youthful and rebellious spirit about them.
Care homes have a place, so too do comfy highbacked chairs and wide fitting Velcro slippers. But, if societies are going to be able to handle a huge and growing population of older citizens they need to find ways of looking after them, of looking beyond medical care and of giving life some meaning. Either that or bored gangs of grannies will be wandering the streets causing mayhem, and no-one needs that.