Celebrate being old at heart

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

How many times have you heard that 70 is the new 50 or 60 is the new 40? A lot, but what does it really mean?

On the one hand, it celebrates the fact that breakthroughs in medicine, better working conditions, less poverty and improved lifestyles all mean that we are living longer, healthier lives.

But it also means that we look younger than previous generations and can contribute to society for longer – whether that is financially by continuing to work or in a myriad of other ways – socially and organisationally.

So why then, once we reach a certain age do attitudes towards us change? When did our society become institutionally ageist? Because it is, and you probably don’t even realise it – you may even be contributing to it.

Stop for a moment and think about what being old means to you.

What sprung to mind? Wrinkles? Walking sticks? A stooped figure? Little old ladies in tea rooms? A bus pass? Probably at least one of those or if not then some other image that implies a negative view of ageing.

I am now approaching my 60th birthday, an age that not long ago would have been considered ‘old’ and probably still is by some young people and yet I still go to music festivals, I still kayak, I still cycle long distances, and I love adrenalin sports.

What at your age? Yes at my age, and I have no intention of slowing down anytime soon, neither should I, but there remains out there an attitude that suggests that I should begin to take it easy, put my feet up. Leave it to the young ones.

Ageism was a phrase first coined as late as 1969 by a psychiatrist and gerontologist called Robert Neil Butler because presumably, a word for discrimination against seniors was not much needed before then.

But it is now, and as the ageing population continues to grow it is time that attitudes changed and particularly here in Torbay where the over the 50-year-olds will soon outnumber the under 50-year-olds, it is time we all campaigned against it.

Somewhere along the line, we seem to have accepted into our language a simple but troubling myth that youth equals good and old equals bad, and we have come up with lots of phrases to unwittingly perpetuate that myth.

And it pervades all aspects of our society and has a negative impact on older people’s chances of employment and severely affects the way that older people are viewed by society as a whole and the NHS and social services in particular.

Yes there are some problems associated with ageing, but most can be sorted – new knees, new hips, heart problems can be fixed, cataracts removed – so ageing does not have to be viewed as a downhill process

It means that we must challenge misconceptions and so-called facts like the real statistics associated with Alzheimer’s (which many young people seem to think is rife among older people) which in reality only affects seven per cent of people aged over 65.

Last week at a celebration of for Ageing Better in Sheffield I came across a remarkable woman blogger and a Twitter user called Grandma Joyce Williams* who is helping raise awareness through the #AgeProud campaign

When she found herself on the breakfast TV couch opposite Philip Schofield, he carelessly referred to the 83-year-old as ‘young at heart’. She cut him off mid-sentence, insisting instead that she was ‘old at heart.’ and accused the presenter of being ageist.

Hear, hear.

In her speech to the national Celebration, she was also quick to point out that she considered being told that she was looking young for her age, an insult and challenged the media to change their attitudes to ageing.

“In the media, you only see the problem. The idea that older people are clogging up the NHS is a myth, and it needs to be challenged.

“We are invisible because we do things at a different time to others, but we are still doing them. You only get to see the problems; you don’t see the 80-year-olds playing tennis, getting married.”

Joyce is not alone in her campaigning and efforts are now being made across the country to rebrand ageing to ensure that older people can age proudly and be proud of their age.

Here in Torbay, as in most places, it is important that we get it right and challenge the damaging misconceptions. Growing older is something to look forward to, not to dread – 60 years of life experience on this earth have at least taught me that.

*Grandma Joyce Williams’ blog can be found at: https://grandmawilliams.com, and she can be followed on Twitter @JoyceWilliams_