The Age of Adventure

By Sue McDermott, Ageing Well Torbay Programme Manager.

One of our aims of the Ageing Well Programme is to try and change public perceptions of ageing and perceptions of older people, but this can be easier said than done for a number of reasons.

Firstly as a society rather than celebrate ageing, we are encouraged to be anti-ageing and it is big business – you only have to look at the extensive range of hair dye (for men and women), anti-wrinkle creams, cosmetics and surgical treatments like facelifts and botox. Also, rather than appreciating the achievement of more people reaching older age and the richness this brings to all of our lives, this change in our demographic is only ever portrayed as a burden to be carried.  This is such a strong message that as we age, we can begin to feel that too about ourselves and worry about relying on others, instead of thinking of what we have to offer others.
Should we ever stop feeling that anything is possible? That there is still more to see, explore and learn about?
It can be a sobering experience when you are the wrong side of 55, and employers seem to stop seeing the lifetime of skills and knowledge you have. It is also easy for us to forget the amount we have learned and done when we get out of the habit of talking about our lives and accomplishments.
Retirement can be an opportunity, and many of us are more physically active in our 50s and 60s than our parents were, but ‘early retirement’ either no longer holds the same appeal as it used to, or isn’t achievable for many of us.  It is becoming more likely that the savings or the pensions we have will not keep up with the rising cost of living, or our extended lives and so we may need ways to add to our incomes.
Fortunately, the wheels of change are turning and more employers are recognising the benefits of taking on older staff not just for their experience but also qualities such as conscientiousness, loyalty, hardworking, punctuality, and enthusiasm. Research is also showing that inter-generational teams are much more productive and creative than same-generation teams. Interestingly the number of ‘olderpreneurs’ is also rising – and according to the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise, out of the 4.17m self-employed workers in the UK, 42 per cent are over 50.
Inventions and ingenious thinking are not restricted to the young – look at these inventors:
  • Scottish inventor John Logie Baird unveiled the colour TV two days after turning 56.
  • Alessandro Volta invented the battery when he was 55, and the ‘volt’ is named after him.
  • The Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik invented the e-cigarette when he was 52.
  • Cai Lun in China invented paper when he was 55.
  • Josephine Cochrane in America invented the dishwasher when she was 47.
  • Ben Franklin, who invented bifocals when he was a whopping 78 years old.
  • Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen formally discovered X-Rays when he was 50.
Only as we begin to appreciate the knowledge and skills of older people, and all they have to offer our families, neighbourhoods, workplaces and businesses, will we begin reducing ageism.

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