We are pioneers in a new world of ageing.
We are, all of us, part of pioneer generations heading into uncharted territory both personally and as a society. Longevity has almost doubled in only a couple of centuries! But have our thinking and imaginations caught up? Really, many of the old drivers to our thinking and choices need no longer apply – we can be proactive in redesigning ageing. This ability to influence our later lives starts surprisingly young! As with any such quantum change, the cliche “both challenges and opportunities” signifies yet understates the potential scenarios.
How are we going to shape this opportunity, personally and as a society?
At some point in our lives we have, or will, reach a point where drooping bodybits or some life event drags us out of the whole denial-of-death-and-ageing thing that is an embedded part of our culture. As this happens, it is all too easy to unconsciously succumb to the negative stereotyping – fear, diminishment, inevitable frailty, irelevence – that frames the underlying drivers of our ideas of what it is to be ‘old’, whether thinking of ourselves or ‘others’
Exploring the personal choices that can positively shape our own ageing and the social implications of these issues form the substance of my latest work in the speaking and writing arena.
Current knowledge tells us that, contrary to the bleak and powerless message of our inherited ideas of ageing, we actually ‘create’ our own ageing to a significant degree. Genes play a role, but epigenetics tells us that lifestyle and other choices affect how our genes play out. Neuroscience tells us so much about the importance of social connection, new learning, and other factors in creating a vibrant older age. Research has demonstrated the importance of maintaining exercise and activity as part of the road to health and strength in body and mind. How much can we ‘make our own luck’?
And what about ‘Ageism’? how do we confront both its capacity to limit our sense of ourselves, AND the external barriers that affect employment choices and our social inclusion or isolation??
None of this is to deny that ageing does have aspects we cannot ‘control’ and may well prefer not to experience, but is saying two things: that the stereotypes ignore the positives that come with accumulated experience and maturity; and that cutting edge knowledge shows that we have far more influence over our ageing destinies than we may previously have thought.