We’ve surely witnessed the inevitability of ageing in our family circles. We hear our parents’ first complaints about the physical consequences of ageing, and we actually see those consequences in the bodies of our grandparents. Nevertheless, we rarely stop to think about the situation of old people (excluding of course, when we discuss pensions or hear about the increase of health expenditures due to the ageing of the populations).
The world population is ageing, and while there is absolutely no novelty in that, most people do not really realise what the “ageing of the population” really means. Over the last 50 years, life expectancy at birth in the European Union has rose by about 10 years for both women and men, reaching 82.4 and 76.4 years for women and men, respectively. In 2012 there were almost half a million people aged 90 + living in England and Wales, and in the United States the number is around 1.9 million. Although there are no statistics telling how many people over 95 there are in the world (odd thing by the way), the number will certainly keep on increasing. The chances we will reach 100 years old, if we have a healthy normal diet, practice sports and do not consume alcohol in excess, are huge.
But what comes with that?
Recently, The New Yorker published a series of photographies showing the daily rituals of people over 90 years old. Inspired by Roger Angell’s article telling how his life was at ninety-three, the stories we learned about aroused in us feelings of guilt, feelings of hope and some anguish as well.
The number of people living in residential care homes is increasing and with that comes more loneliness, many times depression, and mostly, a huge amount of people with immense knowledges that are suddenly pushed to believe they are worth little.
Our society needs a brainwash. Everything in it leads us to behave in a way that excludes old people and to think that innovation is synonymous of youth. Old people are commonly discriminated at workplaces, and their chances of being laid off are certainly higher than their peers. We listen to the advice given of old people, and we are programmed to frame it almost always with paternalistic eyes.
While during the majority of History, old people were treated with respect, with admiration and almost glorification, our times contrast with ancient patterns, and the detachment towards the elder has never been greater.
Again, our society needs a brainwash.
But that is your problem, we will not meddle. After all, it’s you who will wash your mind, not us (in Gabriel O Pensador’s word, “mas isso é problema seu, eu não vou me meter, quem vai lavar a sua mente não sou eu, é você”).