“The Land of Faerie - where nobody gets old” is The Land of Heart’s Desire in the poem by W.B. Yeats. Today, this is what everybody seems to desire: not to grow old. Or, is it that in our rapidly ageing population the whole notion of “old” has been taken to a new level? Forty is the new 30; 70 the new 60 and so it goes.
I want to challenge the way older people are defined, treated and considered (or not) by our society.
I identify essentially three broad groups along a continuum. These groups range from those of 50 or so, who are still actively employed, or seeking employment - but at the same time preparing for retirement (essentially the Baby Boomers). Then there are those in the early years of retirement, active still in the community, pursuing their chosen retirement activities, but many also volunteering in the service of others in the community. We come then to those who are more elderly - some of whom may be frail and/or in ill-health, and of whom some 5.24 per cent may require access to residential aged care.
But - older people cannot be lumped together in homogeneous groups. Even within each of these three groups, no two people are alike; while essentially they may wish for the same outcomes, the optimal means of providing that for each one may be totally different.
It is impossible even to ring around these broad groupings with parameters of age - for we all know that there are some people who are never old, and some who are never young!
To me, and I believe to the vast majority of people, age is a psychological not a chronological phenomenon - until the realities of the physical catch up with us - and even then, a certain accommodation between the two may be achieved.
Our real challenge is a seamless progression along this continuum of retirement and aged care, in which people are treated as individuals, not stereotypes.
It may be that we need to better define what we mean by “retirement”, “old”, and “ageing”, so we are all heading in the same direction. For as Humpty Dumpty said to Alice well over a century ago:
When I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less. Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass.
Looking to my Macquarie Dictionary for a definition of “retirement” I found:
- Retirement: the state of being retired.
- To retire: to withdraw from office, business - or active life.
Some people may wish to retire from active life but do you know anyone?
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