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Why Is It Useful to Think about Ageing as a Lifelong Process?

Info: 2716 words (11 pages) Nursing Assignment
Published: 2nd Jun 2020

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Tagged: ageing

Part A: Why is it useful to think about ageing as a lifelong process and not just something that affects older people?

There are many reasons why it is useful to think about ageing as a lifelong process and not just something that affects older people. ‘Ageing’ is the process of becoming older, a process that is genetically determined and environmentally modulated. ‘Lifelong Process’ defines that we are all ageing from the day that we are born. In this assignment, I will talk about ageing as a lifelong process which involves everyone, the notion of the third age and the fourth age using Laslett’s (1989) theory as well as the Lifecourse Theory, and ageism. l will also draw on examples from K118 materials to support my answer.

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 De Beauvoir argues that although we are aware of the ageing process, we often seek ways of avoiding these realities, by seeing older people as different from ourselves (The Open University, 2014, p.169) Many people disassociate themselves as being old because they associate ageing with frailty and decline, or later life with health and affluence which in turn has the potential to reinforce ageism I.e. social oppression based on age, because people associate Ill health in old age as undesirable and do not acknowledge the vast diversity among older adults. However, it is important that society recognise ageing as a lifelong process and not just something that affects older people as it helps to weaken the categories of ‘older people’ and ‘younger people’ and allows diversity within the category ‘older people’ to become more visible. The positive aspects of seeing ageing as a lifelong process is that ageism may prevent people from thinking about ageing in negative terms whom see ageing as a negative thing to fear. The Lifecourse Theory is useful to think about ageing as a lifelong process as it places ageing in a wider context of a whole lifecourse, and emphasises that dietary choices and exercise in our younger years shapes our experience of ageing. WHO (2000) highlight how later life is shaped by a wide range of factors, including socio-economic factors such as poverty and gender. Kirkwood (2003) argues that our genes, environment and lifestyles play a role in our ageing process and that Individually, we all age differently and the lifestyle choices that we make contribute to how we will age in later life. The lifecourse theory is important to think about as a lifelong process as it can help us to think about our dietary choices whilst we are young in order to prevent ill health in later life.

 According to Laslett’s theory, the period on or around the time of retirement is known as the ‘Third age’. The ‘Fourth age’ refers to a time in which an older person is frailer and more dependent on others for their daily needs, but people may move in and out of this stage in later life (The Open University, 2018) for example, a cancer patient on remission. Laslett argues that chronological age has little to do with whether someone is living the third age. The concept of old age being associated with being a burden is often explored in the media. This is termed apocalyptic demography, which is treating older people solely as a burden to society, rather than recognising the benefits that older people in society may bring. It is ageist to frame this as a problem, and is an example of stereotyping, by categorising all older people as the same. Monty is an example of someone who is living the Third age; he is an active member of his community and seems to contribute more to society than most younger people. He also does not seem to be in a period of his life characterised by decline and difficulty. However, Monty could be living a long Third age due to his regular exercise, good health and happy family situation, whereas, Molly seems to be living a distinctly different life of that of Monty. The Grey Nomads associate their good health and wellbeing in later life with travelling and not having to deal with the stress that homelife brings, as well as the fact that they have a good social life and are constantly meeting new people. Hillman’s (2013) findings from this study are similar to the way in which the lifecourse approach to health considers both biological and social aspects of ageing. Molly is an example of a person who is living in the Fourth Age. However, this does not mean that Molly has a meaningless, unfulfilled life. The people in Katz et al’s (2013) study are living very different lives from Monty Meth, but it is not a simple story of decline and despair, as Laslett’s version of the Fourth age suggests. Categorising people in this way can be useful to think about ageing as a lifelong process because it makes it clear that being older is not the same thing as being dependent and in ill health which helps to resist apocalyptic demography, which treats our ageing population as a burden, not a success (The Open University, 2014, p.25). The disadvantage of categorising people in this way is that it implies that people in the Fourth age do not experience self-fulfilment or make contributions to society, and that they are different from everybody else. Laslett’s description of decline, dependency and decrepitude seem insulting and are ageist towards the individuals living their life in the Fourth age (The Open University, 2018)

Ageism is stereotyping and discrimination against individuals and what life can or should hold for people in the Third age and Fourth age. The term was coined by Robert Butler (1975) to describe discrimination against older people, and patterned on sexism and racism. Butler and Lewis (1973) narrowly defines ageism as seeing older people as powerless in the face of discrimination and prejudice, while Bytheway (1973) broadly defines ageism by highlighting how chronological age is used to categorise people at all ages (The Open University, 2014, p.178) However, in employment unjustified age discrimination still takes place in spite of it being illegal under The Equality Act, 2010 for example, treating a younger worker differently to an older worker, dismissal of a young worker on the basis of their age, or imposing a job requirement that is too hard for younger workers to meet. Age discrimination at work is more common for younger groups, with the under 25s twice as likely to experience it (The Open University, 2018). However, ageism which takes place against older adults has harmful effects on their health. Ageism leads to the marginalisation of older adults and excludes older people in their communities. For older people ageism is an everyday challenge as they may be overlooked for employment, restricted from social services and stereotyped in the media. Denise Keating, chief executive of the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion suggested that although many companies have solid diversity policies, this may not run throughout the company, and more needs to be done to prevent age discrimination at work, otherwise, this could cause the exclusion of many talented people from the workforce (The Open University, 2018) Wider society may make assumptions about older people, that they are a-sexual because they are deemed ‘too old’ to have sex, and also hold stereotypical views, that ‘older people are too grumpy’, ‘needy’ and ‘costs the NHS money’. Although older people make up two thirds (66%) of NHS service users, only 40% of NHS money is spent on them (The Open University, 2018) People need to recognise the diversity among older people and realise that not all older people ‘are the same’, as in the contrasting lives of Monty and Molly, and Zena who is still employed at the age of 85. The most effective way to reverse society’s bias may be to educate younger people about ageing in order to stop the stereotypes from becoming concrete in young people’s mind. If people learn more about the aging process they may be able to relate more to the older generation.

In conclusion, there are many benefits to thinking about ageing as a lifelong process and not just something that affects older people. Combating ageism within wider society will benefit the lives of seniors by improving their health and wellbeing, categorising the Third age and the Fourth age is beneficial because it diminishes the stereotype that ‘all older people are the same’, in turn changing people’s views that ageing is not always associated with frailty and decline and so we also need to recognise the diversity among older adults in society. Finally, if society were educated about the actual ageing process and come to the realisation that we are all ageing from the day we are born, then the younger generation may view older people differently and respect them more. These are all valid strengths to this reasoning. In addition to this, people need to be made aware that the dietary choices and exercise that we take up in earlier life all contribute to how we age in later life, so that they can make these changes now, In order to benefit better in later life.

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Part B: Have your own ideas about your ageing changed after studying Block 3? Explain how and why your ideas have changed or, if your ideas have not changed, why is that?

I am 27 years old and have two children. My son is 9 years old and my daughter is 4 years old. Being a mum has made me think about my ageing a lot more often, as my children’s birthdays pass each year, I am more aware that I am getting older.

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 The physical changes that I have noticed is that the skin on my face does not look as youthful as it did 10 years ago which is due to lack of cell regeneration associated with ageing, I have noticed that I have got a few grey hairs and I find it quite harder to lose weight than when I was younger. I suffer with sciatica and sometimes I am unable to take part in daily activities as much as I would like. I think of these changes negatively.

The positive changes that I have noticed are that I have gained extra knowledge, especially since studying block 3. Previous to this, I did hold both positive and negative stereotypes and prejudices in relation to ageing. For example, I associated old age with ill-health, dependency and frailty, and that all older people were in the same category. However, The Lifecourse Theory as well as Laslett’s theory has put ageing into perspective for me and my views have now changed about my own ageing.

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The ageing process is of course a biological reality which has its own dynamic, largely beyond human control. However, it is also subject to the constructions by which each society makes sense of old age. In the developed world, chronological time plays a paramount role.

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