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We believe that attitudes to later life have never been more relevant with increasing numbers of us living in to late old age. So, we took some time to see what we could learn from other ageing populations and how we could help challenge perceptions of ageing.
What does it mean to be old?
Firstly, people over 60 are not a homogenous group, but generations of people, all with different viewpoints and life experiences. Forget the idea of all older people being frail, needy and fragile, the ‘baby boomers’ generation - those born between 1946 and 1964 - are putting a stop to those stereotypes; they see their later years as an extension of middle rather than old age.
Cultural perspectives can have a huge effect on our experience of getting older too, as we found when we researched countries celebrating the aging process.
Japan has the highest percentage of senior citizens in the world with more than a quarter of its population aged over 65 and this is set to increase to 40% by 2055. In fact, its ageing society has prompted the redefinition of the term 'elderly': a joint committee of Japan Gerontological Society and Japan Geriatrics Society has recommended that people aged 65-74 be classified as pre-old age and those aged 75 or above be put in the "old age" category, with people past their 90th birthday being described as "super-old".
Many attribute Japanese people's longevity to their strong work ethic, busy social life and their standing in the community.
The image of the older person as a sen-nin (wise sage) is common in popular Japanese culture and the pervasive Confucian norm of filial piety, in which children should honour their parents, promotes the importance of continued respect and care of elderly parents.
Similarly, Koreans are socialized to respect and show deference to older members of their communities and it’s also customary to mark an individual’s 60th and 70th birthdays with big celebrations: the hwan-gap, or 60th birthday, is a time when children celebrate their parents’ passage into old age and a large family gathering is held for the 70th birthday, known as kohcui (literally – 'old and rare').
Greece and Italy
Mediterranean and Latin cultures also place priority on the family. In both cultures, it's commonplace for multiple generations to live under one roof as one big family, sharing daily tasks and socialising together. That way older people are at the heart of the household, often taking on childcare responsibilities for the youngest members, remaining thoroughly integrated and valued.
In many tribal communities, elders are respected for their wisdom and life experiences and are expected to pass down their learnings to younger members of the family. Elders are recognised in several ways, by age, by knowledge and by spiritual commitments to their tribe and as such they hold a special place in Native Society. They are seen as the carriers of memory and the keepers of tradition and spiritual values.
We believe that older people are amongst the most interesting and valuable people on the planet: it’s time to rethink ageing, embrace our own advancing years and interact more with our elders, because somewhere along the way we’ve lost sight of this.
The Western fear of aging keeps us from living full lives, according to psychologist Erik Erickson, who wrote that: “Lacking a culturally viable ideal of old age, our civilization does not really harbour a concept of the whole of life,”. Join us on our mission to change that.