Month: October 2020

The language of ageing

The language of ageing

I just watched a great session intro by Sophie Handler for the Artistic Exploration of Ageing Session 7, a series of workshops from the UK. Sophie explores how language can mediate our experience of ageing and is busy compiling a Vocabulary of Ageing with all the words we use to talk about age.

Artistic exploration of ageing – session 7 from Dave Martin on Vimeo.

I’ve often thought about how so many of the words we use around ageing are negative (‘over the hill’, ‘the elderly’, ‘old biddy’) or how often judgemental terms creep in too. I’m thinking about terms like ‘positive ageing’, ‘ageing better’, ‘successful ageing’. And of course, while I support being positive about ageing, who gets to define what is ‘better’ or ‘successful’?

Anti-ageing is another term that really gets my goat and is almost exclusively seen in the beauty industry. I’ve made a vow to not buy any ‘anti-ageing’ products or from brands that use this term in their marketing. Fortunately, many newer brands don’t seem to include ‘anti-ageing’ in their list of claims, as opposed to more established brands which still take this angle in their marketing.

I’ve also extended this approach to other consumables… I was looking for new underwear for myself as well as trying to find a front opening bra that my mum could manage (she has arthritis in her hands). I was browsing a range of online sites and noticed that some brands have started to include older models. I was surprised how much it made a differen to how I felt about the product, seeing older women represented on the sites. It made me think about the decision-making the company would have gone through to decide to use older models and that they were trying to be inclusive of a range of women.

Two images of women’s torsos in singlets and boyleg undies and one image featuring 3 older women and a black dog on
Image of younger model and older model in bra and pants on

Again, it’s a reminder of how language can impact our perspective on the world – nowhere on these sites was age mentioned in terms of the product. No nanna knickers to be seen. It felt like acknowledgement that older women can choose comfort without being seen as daggy or they can choose more sexy attire without being seen as ridiculous. More of this please!!

Just so over it!

Just so over it!

Maybe it’s COVID-19 and the associated disruptions. Maybe it’s being 53 and going through perimenopause. Or maybe I am completely sick and tired of seeing so much ageism (and racism and ableism and sexism) in a world where we should really know better by now. I despair that I will see out my life and things won’t have changed much at all, despite all the hard work of the many activists and advocates working to make change.

In August, The Ageing Revolution core team (Simon and I!) went on a roadtrip. It was part-work, part-play and part-checking in on family. We camped along the way and I took the opportunity to re-read Ashton Applewhite’s Manifesto on Ageing “This Chair Rocks” as well as Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal book “Old Age“. They make for both inspiring and depressing reading simultaneously.

Simone de Beauvoir’s book was published in 1970, a full 50 years ago. It could have been published this year for all the change we’ve seen occur. At the same time, the treatment of older people during COVID-19 has brought inequity into sharp relief, stripping many older people around the world of basic human rights. Around the world, we’ve seen high death rates among older people, aged care centres abandoned, and older people isolated from their family and support systems. To top it off, the recent news that studies on COVID-19 tend not to include older people have really confirmed the ageism at work here. Older people are disposable, dispensable and if you happen to be in aged care, pretty much given up for dead already!

The aged care royal commission has found the Australian government’s measures to prepare the aged care sector for Covid-19 were “insufficient” in some respects. The royal commission’s special report on aged care and Covid-19 has 4 clear recommendations:

  • The Australian government should fund providers to ensure there are adequate staff available to deal with external visitors so that the Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19 (Visitation Code) can be modified to enable a greater number of more meaningful visits between people receiving care and their loved ones.
  • The Australian government should create Medicare Benefits Schedule items to increase the provision of allied health and mental health services to people living in residential aged care during the pandemic to prevent deterioration in their physical and mental health. Any barriers, whether real or perceived, to allied health and mental health professionals being able to enter residential aged care facilities should be removed unless justified on genuine public health grounds.
  • The Australian government should publish a national aged care plan for COVID-19 and establish a national aged care advisory body.
  • The Australian government should arrange for the deployment of accredited infection prevention and control experts into residential aged care homes.

Given these findings, why aren’t government, services, NGOs clamouring to understand how they can tackle ageism? Australia has a national campaign against ageism, EveryAge Counts, led by the Benevolent Society and one of the first of its kind in the world. It is even supported by the aforementioned Ashton Applewhite. But where is the charge to make change? Why isn’t this a priority?

The answer is because ageism is so internalised and so endemic, it’s not even noticed. It is accepted. As older people, our lives, our value, appear to be reduced with every year. And our society, that values productivity and contribution, fails to understand what value older people bring beyond propping up a health industry based on illness. Simone de Beauvoir notes this way back in 1970 – societies that operate in a deficit mindset scavenging for resources regard older people as a burden. In this same way, capitalism has positioned older people as the enemy of the young, an economic drain on society remedied only by death, whereupon their property value can be transferred to younger people.

And now as I ponder my own path forward to older age, at the same time as negotiating the increasing interdependence of my mother as she nears 82, I’m just feeling a bit jaded that this isn’t all sorted already. Where is the choice for older people to shift housing, to access support and safety, to feel connected to a whole? ‘It is happening’, I hear you say yet I feel like the change is currently limited to those with the affluence to afford a lifestyle free from ageism. And even then, there’s an underlying current of dread that affluence does not always buy an age-friendly experience.

So I’m trying to take solace in my younger and older friendships (support and friend networks are important as you age, right?), my love/hate relationship with Twitter and the grey twitterati who inspire and uplift (Tom Scharf, Jeanette Leardi, Ashton Applewhite, Louise Aronson, Susan Flory, Grandma Williams, Jane Evans, and also, Mona Eltahawy) and try to remember to skateboard at least once a week. It’s good for my balance and my mental health. And fuck it, when you’re skating, no one cares whether you’re six or sixty.