Perhaps one of the biggest problems facing elderly care globally is the fact that people of age are being written off. They are seen as a burden, and that stems from the way they are seen and heard. Can and should that change?
LIFE IS FOR LIVING
According to a new study, people should not be called “old” until they are seriously frail, dependent and approaching death. This is according to one of the UK’s leading social scientists.
Sarah Harper, is a gerontologist – that is a health care professional who specialises in the effects of aging over people’s lifespans. Harper is director of the Oxford Institute of Ageing, and believes that a radically different approach is necessary.
This new approach is proposing a change to the very language we use about ageing. The idea is that by talking in terms of people in their 60s and possibly 70s and 80s being considered active adults, then they will embrace life and be embraced by other generations.
Not until the signs of real old age are evident should we be lumping people together in one description. There is so much life that can be actively lived by people of advanced years, before frailty takes its toll.
NO ONE AGE FITS ALL
The message is simple, we should not even be calling people old until they reach a stage where they become weak and enfeebled. Old age should be the fourth age, the time of real change, not just enforced by a number.
Currently the “fourth age” is defined as being around the 80+ mark. A time when physical change does begin to creep in. However, everything before else should be active adulthood.
There is a danger for society and within relationships when a blanket approach of, “you are old” is bandied around. It can ruin what can be good, enjoyable and productive years, which helps no-one.
It can also mean neglecting what true old age should be: a time of withdrawal and peace and reflection. It can be a difficult time but “it is a time we need to claim as a special time because we are finite beings … we will die”, Harper reminds us.
WHEN IS OLD
The question then becomes what exactly is old age? It is an important question, and one which needs context and clarity. When Steven Gerrard hung his football boots up, it was because he was considered too old. So, let’s get a sense of scope and scale here.
When are we truly old, it is a vitally important question. The issue arises because death is increasingly being pushed back. Medically we are extending lives in a way we have never experienced before, and that means there are years which would otherwise not existed or have been spent incapable.
Now with general life expectancy rising by two and a half years per decade it is vitally important that we begin to not only fight the stigma of aging, but that people can be encouraged to do more in those years.
A LIFE LIVED
It is too easy to simply call people old and be done. That is the route to a society which does not engage with aging, it simply throws people on the metaphorical scrap heap.
People are not like old bits of furniture or that outdated mobile phone in your desk drawer. They cannot and should not be discarded simply because of age – they should be encouraged and helped to live the lives that they are capable of.
A new emphasis on people living as active adults, even into their 80s is a wholly positive concept. They have so much to give, and the simple act of deciding that “old” is not a number is something that can boost people and so too society.
When the retirement age was set at 65 most men were dead by 70. That is not the case anymore, and where retirement was a short period of rest after a long working life, now it is becoming something different. The prejudice and stigma needs to be removed, and people who have lived long lives should be helped to live some more.
TOP TIPS FOR STAYING YOUNG
So, what are the ways in which an active adulthood can be sustained even into someone’s 80s? Let’s see…
- Give yourself a little respect – It is no good being defined by age, it is about the individual. People need to feel and realise their worth, then they will put the effort in to stay energised and lively.
- Exercise and manage weight – Ok, so this may not be about triathlons and the gym (though it could well be), but it is about getting up out of the chair and getting things done. Exercise comes in many forms, and an aging population needs to find what works to stay in shape.
- Keep Drinking – An often-overlooked problem for seniors is the fact they tend to not drink enough fluids. This can cause serious problems. When people are depressed, they sometimes forget to hydrate and so problems become even worse. Make water a habit, is the key.
- The Joy of Friends – Character is shaped by the company we keep. A group of friends who want to engage and do things is wholly positive and makes an incredible different to people. Aging people need to think about joining clubs, engaging in fitness programmes, dance classes, anything that helps keep the mind young and the body agile.
- The power of Love – senior weddings are on the rise, and that is because people are recognising the healing and helping power of love. Ok, yes there are complications with age, but to find a soulmate for the final leg of life’s journey sounds pretty cool to us.
So, the message is clear, society needs to rethink its view of what old age is, and in return people in their advanced years need to re-evaluate what they can and should be doing. This is about engagement, and not fighting the effects of age – but understanding them, not fearing them and actually doing something about it.