Don’t be afraid of old age!
No one likes to be thought of as an “old” man or “old” woman. No wonder we keep changing our definition of what old age is as we grow older. At fourteen, thirty seems old and forty middle aged! As you turn 30, you tend to believe you are in the prime of life and funnily you think the same when you hit 40! Or 45 for that matter.
A Pew survey conducted in the USA amongst a sample size of 2,969 people, revealed that although the under 30’s tended to think that old age hits one at 60, few 65 year olds agreed!
“Old age” is supposed to bring with it some “signs” or “markers” like memory loss or loneliness, but even here is a dichotomy between what young people think will happen (in old age) and what older adults actually experience. The so-called markers of old age like illness, memory loss, an inability to drive, an end to sexual activity, loneliness, depression, and financial difficulties were experienced at a much lower level than expected. And well, it goes without saying that those who are better off financially experience less ageing problems.
However, it was also true that older adults reported getting fewer “benefits” of ageing than they expected, like spending more time with their family, traveling more for pleasure, more time for hobbies, doing volunteer work or starting a second career.
So all in all it seems that we tend to exaggerate our fears of old age and tend to overplay the benefits!
But when does a person become old?
Now that we know that crossing the age of 60 doesn’t necessarily bring with it some sort of disability, it makes us wonder, what is the finishing line for middle age?Is it all about feeling young, or is there an age which you cross after which you fall in the “old” bracket?
Well, it is clear that people do tend to go by what they “feel” and if they feel young, they are sure that they are not old! And people feel young as long as they are active and not dependent on others. In the United States people in their eighties tend to slow down considerably, and think of themselves as old then. In India, if we only talk of the urban middle classes, perhaps the eighties would hold good too. I know several people who lead very active lives (relatively speaking) in their in their seventies. My parents are certainly in this category of elderly active people. They don’t think of themselves as “old.”
However, the truth is that there is an age at which the general public categorizes you as old. That age, the survey revealed, is 68.
Is it any different in India? Well, amongst poorer people in India this figure would change. There would be a gap of at least a decade. People who lead physically hard lives, and don’t take in adequate nutrition, or are unable to afford the right medicines, tend to age fast and tend to also suffer the markers of old age far more than their better off brethren.
Life of the elderly in India
I found a paper on conditions of elderly people in India and it says that life for the elderly is difficult in developing countries, particularly for elderly women as they are not economically secure and may be widows. Also people who do physical labour are unable to continue after a certain age and as they have no “benefits” to fall back on they become dependent on their children. According to the findings of the paper, states like Haryana, Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, and Punjab offer a better quality of life to their elderly than states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. The writer of the paper has said that the more traditional societies tend to stay in joint families, thus offering a better quality of life to the elderly. On the other hand, development and a breakdown of the joint family system in some states has affected the life of the elderly. Therefore the trends are clear. India is heading towards a stage where more and more elderly parents will be on their own.
(While the two graphs are from Pew, the photograph is by me)