Changing the frame on society's view of ageing
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
'It's changed my whole view of ageing.'
'A brilliant morning.'
'Thank you for your excellent talk. Plenty of food for thought as I continue to develop my ministry among older people and encouraging to be with other like-minded people!'
A sample of just some of the feedback from a webinar talk entitled 'What makes for a hopeful older age – an exploration' given by Debbie Thrower, pioneer of Anna Chaplaincy, which drew around fifty people today.
Director of Faith in Older People, Maureen O'Neill who organised the joint webinar with Anna Chaplaincy, said it was an 'excellent' presentation:
'It was informative, challenging and thought provoking. I think everyone went away with things to consider for themselves as well as how they might be alongside others as they age. We don't have many opportunities to stand back and consider how we feel about growing older in a hopeful way, considering the potential and what next.'
Debbie spoke of the 'new territory' today's men and women over the age of 65 are entering as older generations now outnumber those under the age of 18 in the UK for the first time ever.
She described the ways we can 'cultivate hopefulness'; stressing the importance of 'character' which we make for ourselves over a lifetime as opposed to 'temperament' which, to some extent, we inherit. She suggested that part of being hopeful in older age depends on each of us making a conscious decision to adopt a hopeful attitude of mind.
Our needs in our later years – such as the desire for recognition, a sense of self-worth, mutually supportive relationships and opportunities to contribute – all featured prominently. Writers were quoted such as C.S Lewis, Michael Mayne and John V. Taylor. Ronald Blythe who celebrated his 100th birthday this month was also highlighted as a role model of 'ageing well'.
There was plenty of time for discussion in small groups and together, with themes emerging such as the importance of being hospitable in older age; remaining curious about the world and each other; maintaining a certain playfulness; choosing leisure interests which can be carried on throughout a lifetime; and the significance of living 'in the moment'.
Debbie quoted Harriet and Donald Mowat, authors of The Freedom of Years: Ageing in perspective, published by BRF in 2018:
'Ageing, whatever else it is about, must be about changing and deepening our understanding of our place, in and outside time, which as we all know can be a struggle.'
She concluded with some poetry by the late poet-priest David Scott who has just died at the age of 75, which stressed how 'expectant attention' might be a key part of the way we address our own maturing process more hopefully.
Those who face the immense changes we will all encounter with a degree of confidence and anticipation rather than dread may be giving the kindest, most useful gift they can, to the younger generations who will succeed them. Babies born today are likely to live, routinely, well into their 100s. It won't be long before supercentenarians will be as commonplace as centenarians are becoming today, she said. There was an 85% rise in the number of centenarians in the 15 years to 2018, for example.
The Office for National Statistics' projection is for there to be three million people aged 85 and over by 2043 (nearly double compared with the 1.6 million in that cohort in 2018 – the latest available figures before the recent census results which are only just starting to be made public).
Those who live long, and even to what one might describe as 'extreme old age', will need to develop coping mechanisms and resilience as never before.