Let me introduce you to two old people I know.
First is Irene:
Somewhat bent old lady of 80+ inevitably grey hair and with serious wrinkles. Knees decidedly rusty, has to find a rail to go down steps and very unhappy on uneven ground without a stick. Uses a hearing aid, but luckily no glasses, the cataract ops worked. Problem toes mean comfortable shoes. Sleeps a lot.
Son lives 200 miles away and is very busy. No other close family. Her husband has Parkinson’s and both of them are loosing short term memory. They have to have help with the garden and with cleaning. Now dodgy to have to climb step ladder to fill the bird feeder or change bulbs. Travel needs a wheelchair through big airports and suitcase help for trains.
Second is Jay:
Another 80+ who has lived a bit, looks it and doesn’t mind at all. Loves travel and exploring anything of interest. Sees it as mind opening and adding to whole life experience. Chuckles at the nonsenses in the world….especially, recognising that they are not new…Loves learning something fresh, teaching Bridge and enjoying the many pleasures of old age.
Buoyantly positive about life and although at her age, death is on its way, it isnt a worry.
Always forgetting something..’What will it be this time?’ is the daily joke. Husband equally wobbly, which has them in fits of giggles as they clutch each other to cope with a step. And even more splutters of laughter when trying “ to sin on a tiger skin” and finding it impossible to get up again… ( Elinor Glynn… Google it if you are too young to remember!)
Can you picture them?
TEST: Which of these picture is of Jay, and which Irene?
Did these word pictures trick you into pulling up a stereotypical image?
Perhaps not. Suspect you you have already guessed…. All are me at 80+. But all of them are photos you could take of very many of us at that age.
Both the descriptions are true of course.
I expect most people who see me for the first time will go on automatic and up pops the Rene pictures….standard stereotype of a Wrinkly, slightly sad, increasingly frail declining life.
They are not wrong. It is correct. I am deteriorating steadily and showing it. Yet the real me is still there, albeit hidden by that outer shell of appearing old.
It is hard isn’t it, to see past that image and reach to the 8 year old going on 18 to 80+ who is still bubbling inside that shell? And in spite of it, or possibly, because of it, enjoying life in many ways much more than ever before!
Yet the happy version is a picture of the majority of people in their later years. So why does the sad stereotype version appear so often?
The idea that Old Age is just you, in the future, in a different outfit, is a difficult one to grasp when you haven’t experienced it!
Not easy when you live in a system which glorifies youth and in which age, not being understood, is feared.
Unwittingly, we have allowed these two sides of a coin to evolve and damage our society. They are easy lazy images which then categorise a perfectly normal and varied group of people. Too easy, the media love them.
Once wrong images are established, they have very disturbing effects…..They are believed to be true and people labelled by them begin to feel it to be so too.
It’s so easy to let the media you see or the discourse you hear define who you are as your later years arrive. You buy into it too if you aren’t careful.
Lazy images are not only unhelpful for us all, they are dangerously destructive.
- Challenge the media every time we spot one being used inappropriately*
- Embarrass them, so they think twice…!
- Further Challenge them to create a fresh image. One which illustrates ALL the great aspects of life in later years.
- All of us look around, get an eggspoon and crack the shell of any older person you meet! Who are they!
- Develop our confidence in being old! Boast about it! Create our image ourselves and tell everyone that later years are great.
+*Fully accept that some stories do need images of problems. But not linked in such a way that carelessly it implies that it applies to all older people.
Now, for fun, let me give you a different slant!
Here is a puzzle for you! In my blog category Curiosity and magic I have simultaneously with this blog posted a description of a town.
It is a well known town, often in the news. The description I have given is accurate, but it may be a bit different from the one you hold!
My question to you is:
Can you picture this town and name it?