Longevity: The Alternative Perspective and Impact of Ageing
Professor Laurie Buys shared how we can change the current mindset from ageing to longevity, viewed through the lens of physical, social, economic and cultural shifts.
The world is constantly changing: In Australia, the average life expectancy has increased from 53 years in 1909 to 83 years in 2020. However, during this time, the average age of retirement has only increased from 65 to 67. This curious lack of advancement occurred because we were unprepared for longevity, asserts Professor Laurie Buys, Director of the Health Ageing Initiative at the University of Queensland, in the seventh and final instalment of the Healthy Ageing lecture series.
One of the perspectives contributing to our unpreparedness for longevity is the age dependency ratio, an international metric that examines the number of non-working-age persons in a community dependent on working-age persons, which is defined as people aged 15 to 64 years. This flawed demographic measurement assumes that no one aged 65 and above works, and that they are a burden and need to be provided for and cared for, thus making them “dependent”. Naturally, this portrays these older people in a negative light, and as a result, we do not necessarily build infrastructure outside the purposes of care and dependency for people in this age group.
According to Disengagement Theory, “ageing is an evitable, mutual withdrawal or disengagement, resulting in decreased interaction between the ageing person and others in the social system he belongs to.” This presents the idea that it is natural and acceptable for older people to withdraw from society, a notion that we have not seemed to completely move past.
Meanwhile, Affordance Theory suggests that the world is perceived not only in terms of shapes and relationships, but also what opportunities for actions are provided. Through individual and group perceptions, visual clues indicate what we can or cannot do in a place. This means that our social and physical environments impact our identity and interactions.
While society often links older people with ideas such as “retirement villages” and “assisted care”, actual conversations with older people reveal that the things they do find important are much different. In fact, the community’s perception of retirement living, aged care and the ‘care’ industry is directly in-line with the traditional definition of retirement and disengagement. As such, we are creating and facilitating the withdrawal of older people from society.
With healthy ageing on the rise, the future “older people” will be very different from the present “older people”, and we need to do better to support them. To do this, we need to change our perspective from believing that we peak at a certain age and then begin declining, and instead understand that people can continue to contribute and add value throughout their lives.
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