Showing Up to Being an Older Person

What’s in a word? How do you like to be identified? Are you one of the Boomer generation, a senior citizen, a pensioner, an elder, an older person, a sexagenarian, or a retiree? Are you in your old age, your later years, your declining years or your third age? Are you ageing, growing old, maturing, mellowing or living well at any age?

In a multimedia class I’ve been attending we learned about Google’s appetite for key words. But what are the key words we identify with in the realm of getting older? We used to be retirees but there’s nothing retiring about the trail of caravans snaking their way around Australia. Nor are “retirees” actually retiring that much. They are setting up new businesses, working in unpaid carer roles and volunteering extensively. We’re a very busy lot of retirees!

What does “old” actually mean? We start getting older when we are born. There is a process of ageing where our bodies change, frailty and illness can set in and yes, we all die. But this process reaches us at different ages. As individuals we may go through this process anywhere from our 60’s and most people are in their mid -80’s before our health deteriorates. Others never know this stage and seem to simply choose their time to die.

The politically correct term for us seems to be we are older people or in our case, “Older Australians.”

Do these semantics really matter? I think these words are important for our generation and the mindset with which we see ourselves as older people. The ageing process exists and sitting comfortably with being older, looking older, acting older and not disguising or apologizing for being older is a sign of a healthy self- acceptance. If this acceptance were widespread across society we would also have a more tolerant and inclusive place for older people.

It’s a positive move to see Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda walking the catwalk in Paris and to see older women with wrinkles as beautiful.  But “Doesn’t she look great. She doesn’t look her age!” still pervades our thinking. Take a look at Baddiewinkle on Facebook or Instagram. (YouTube link below) She is 88 years old and has been “stealing your man since she was 27.”  She has 3.8m followers on Instagram

Is this a new take on the eccentric old lady? I can hear the call for me to “Lighten up. It’s just a bit of fun!” My discomfort is that Baddiewinkle echoes the stereotype of the slightly crazy older person and emphasizes the need to look and act young because acting older has no kudos or currency in our youth culture zeitgeist.

We talk about having “seniors’ moments” implicitly apologising for being an older person. We simply forget. End of story. We have “nanny naps” not siestas. We balk at asking people to speak clearly because our hearing is going. We hide the magnifying glass in the zip pocket of the handbag for all the small print that invades our world.

What if were/ are just older people and we are ageing and we acknowledge this natural process?  Ageing means we can have some decline in our physical and mental selves. What if we are beautiful even as our joints go knobbly and we stoop slightly? What if we are seen as beautiful even though we eschew Botox and a celebrity makeover? What if we do ask for what we need from others? We learn to ask for help when necessary.

What if, in this world of being an older person we are completely independent and self- actualizing 95% of the time but sometimes we need to ask for a hug. We want to be noticed and listened too and taken seriously. What if we accept that even among grey nomads, successful older business people and bungy-jumping grannies there will be a time when our bodies decline and we will die. We have just started to talk about death as a society- mainly because the insurance industry saw a great opportunity to sell funeral insurance to older people. Funeral Insurance hits the nerve of guilt very successfully- “What, your kids are going to be burdened with the costs of paying for your funeral?”(Implication the kids will have to declare bankruptcy because you want oak and brass handles!) But can we talk about death at the dinner table and particularly, can grandpa talk about his inevitable death? Or does he leave furtive notes hoping to be found when he dies or legal instructions with his solicitor?

Australia has embarked on a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in response to concerns expressed in the media about the poor quality of aged care and abuse of older people in care.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has outlined certain human rights and freedoms that are particularly relevant to older people, including the right to:

  • Have an adequate standard of living including access to adequate food, clothing and housing
  • Have the highest possible standard of physical and mental health
  • Work and fair working conditions
  • Be safe and free from violence
  • Be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
  • Privacy
  • Family life

These are the basics and not in place for large sectors our older people.

This article has invited a conversation about ageing from a number of angles.

  • What are the terms/ names/ words around ageing that you like to use?
  • Do you feel a pressure to look and act young? Tell us about this experience.
  • How comfortable are you with the ageing process? Do you feel comfortable in your older skin?
  • What do you think are the key issues affecting the quality of life of older people in the society you live in?

Please leave your comments below and start a conversation with our community of Vivas.

Check out this simple scientific explanation of ageing- and why it would be good to be a naked mole rat!

Good and bad things about ageing! We sweat less, are happier and have droopy ear lobes!

Feature Image with thanks Charlie Howell
Other Images with thanks Alex Harvey, Jezz Vega and Wikipedia Creative Commons

21 March 2019 | Living Well

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