Our society places a huge value on youth and health.
Our marketing, entertainment and media focus on the young demographic and it’s all part of our prosperous and consumer-driven culture.
Unfortunately, many have internalized this marketing to such a degree that we dread the prospect of aging —even though it is an unavoidable part of the journey if we want to live a long life.
Today we have a very large generation of baby boomers emerging as seniors and many are finding the experience of aging doesn’t have to be what we expected.
I recently read an excellent article in the Washington Post highlighting a physician in the U.S. who is trying to change the way we view aging —to emphasize old age as a third phase of life that can be equally rewarding as other stages.
Bill Thomas argues against the institutionalization of the elderly and says our negative perception of aging has become a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to isolation and poor health outcomes.
Research is increasingly finding that these negative attitudes and treatment of the elderly work against well-being and those with these conceptions are more likely to experience dementia.
Thomas has become well known for changing ideas around elder care. He has issues with the way we tend to warehouse the elderly in very institutional nursing homes. Instead, he developed the Eden Project, to humanize these facilities by bringing in animals, plants and life.
Results have been very positive with medication use and early death dropping dramatically.
For the past two years Thomas has been traveling the continent trying to change people’s perspectives. He wants to normalize the idea of aging. His message—old and young are two distinct, but equally valuable times of life.
He focuses on the different strengths of the old and young. Young brains are literal and mathematical, older brains are better at making associations.
Thomas says aging gracefully does require us to be flexible—as we age our strengths and physical capabilities do change but if we can adjust as we go through each part of the journey, we could change our attitudes about aging in general.
In some cultures of course, the elderly are valued for their wisdom and experience.
Communities and families are set up more for intergenerational mingling with elders often staying in a family setting where everyone can contribute to a household according to their strengths and capabilities. Here in the West, we tend to be much more individualistic in focus with the nuclear family typically living independently.
In modern days our families have also spread much farther afield making it difficult for generations to practically work and live together.
While we may not change the very fabric of how our culture operates, we could create a much richer environment for young and old if we placed value on all stages of life and worked to improve attitudes for individuals themselves and society at large.