13 February, 2015

The many faces of old age

I have a number of elderly relatives and I never cease to be amazed by the different approaches that they adopt to old age.

Some never stop talking about their age; it is clearly a fundamental part of their lives. These people tend to be intensely concerned with their health, discussing in minute detail event the slightest ache or pain that they experience. They seem unaware that all people of their age experience this kind of discomfort and malaise on a day-to-day basis. An eighty-year-old naturally feels different, physically, from a twenty-year-old. These people also lose their zest for life. 'I am too old' is a common refrain that is applied to all kinds of situations -- the wish to no longer travel, to stay at home, to cook the simplest of meals...

By contrast, others make the most of their old age. They travel, socialise, entertain, and are probably even more active than earlier on in their lives. It is clear that they too experience the discomforts of old age -- you can observe them rubbing an arthritic hand, walking slower than they used to, sinking down gratefully into a comfortable chair -- but you never hear them talk or complain about these things. Rather than giving in to old age, they seem to meet it head on.

And there is a third approach to old age that I have encountered -- recognising that the end is coming, the people in this category start analysing their lives, looking to right any wrongs that they believe themselves to have committed. They are, I suppose, seeking atonement or some kind of closure and it is this that drives their actions in, and approach to, old age.

I suppose that these different takes on ageing are really just an extension of the individual's personality. A young person with a negative outlook is likely to grow into an elderly person with a negative outlook. Someone who has always embraced life will carry that attitude forwards into old age. But it makes you think and, more importantly, it makes you realise how you would like to be in old age. I hope that I still remember this when I reach that stage in my own life.

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