Ageing is not a linear process

Ageing is a process – not always kind, but utterly inevitable. It starts before we are even born and continues until death: some say for a short period longer in fact. We are born, we age, many of us suffer some of the maladies associated with ageing, but unlike taxes, we don’t quite go on forever. The process is inexorably linear and the only way any of us (and then only parts of us) can get any younger is by accepting an organ transplant: not an objective many of us are happy to pursue.

The impacts of ageing, on the other hand, are not necessarily as inevitable. Most of us get a few twinges, our hair changes colour, some even falls out, we tend to put on weight and a few creases might appear on our faces – but these are merely physical evidences of the maturity of our bodies. For some of us, maturity is anathema – indeed, some revel in the ‘privilege’ of acting immaturely, taking advantage of advancing years to indulge in some of the secret aspirations their position in the workplace or society more generally prevented them from exploring. More strength to them!

But more importantly, the adverse changes arising from ageing are not linear. We may find ourselves incapable of particular activities at certain times, yet find them quite routine at other times for any number of reasons. For example, building our careers may be so time-consuming that we do not exercise as we should and this may prevent us from participating in tennis or bowls when we retire. But after a bit of bike-riding, some walking, perhaps an improved diet, we may find ourselves more than capable of taking off the President’s Cup. Similarly, a heart condition may inhibit many activities quite dramatically, but following suitable medication or surgery, we may again find that we are bouncing with energy and ready to compete with people a generation or two younger than our physical age. We may elect not to participate in some activities because of age-related depression or because we fear our age, skill-level or fitness will prevent us from enjoying them or excelling as we might wish, but if we join a Life Activities Club or enrol in a class or two, most of us become surrounded by caring friends in the same situation as ourselves and we comfortably embrace activities we imagined were closed to us. Some of us may even use our age as the excuse for particular behaviours (or lack of them), but lifestyle and wellbeing are demonstrably not as dependent on youth as many of us might think.

Similarly, age of itself does not (and should never) necessarily impact our independence, particularly our cognitive independence.

When we are children and adolescents, we know what is best for us – as well as what is best for the rest of the world. When we are building our careers or raising our families, we are often required to make monumental economic and social judgements – and most of us take them in our stride. We readily make all sorts of major decisions for our children that will impact them throughout the rest of their lives, but we don’t flinch from that. We easily commit ourselves to radical career choices, 40-year mortgages, cars that cost 2 years’ salary, health and lifestyle choices that will influence our day-to-day lives until the day we die. Not all of these decisions produce the outcomes we hope for, but we survive, make the most of them and move on. All of this indicates our willingness and ability to make sound judgements about all sorts of really major issues so this raises a serious question in my mind.

If we are able to make our own decisions, do what is right for us and those around us, control all aspects of our lives for 60 years or so, including at least 15-20 years when we are at least strongly influencing the life choices of our children, why should we suddenly accept that our children know better than we do what is best for us just because they have had less birthdays than we have? Regrettable though it is, statistically, Elder Abuse and particularly Elder Financial Abuse originates within the family at a time when most of us are still more than capable of independent living and making all our own decisions – at least on non-family-related issues.

It is hard to justify derogation of responsibility for the rest of our lives to people with 20-25 years less experience than us, who have not survived, even thrived on, the same challenges we have, who have perspectives entirely different from ours – and who, as often as not, have spent a large part of their lives criticising us for the decisions we make. Surely, if we have listened for so many years to being told that we make bad decisions (at least those seen as unbeneficial to our offspring), serious alarms should start klaxoning when these critics start encouraging us to relinquish important decision-making power to them. Yet, often as not, this is the root of Elder Abuse.

The lesson in this sounds rather simple, but maybe I am naïve. Given that we have flourished quite independently for 60 or 70 years, the incentive to surrender our independence to people we know to have less experience, probably less knowledge and certainly, divergent aspirations and perspectives, should be questioned – no matter how appealing the colourful wrapping and sugar frosting might appear. If it looks too good to be true, remove the wrapping and examine it the same way all the other decisions in your life were analysed.

Written by Lindsay Doig

President, Life Activities Club Victoria

You can find out more about  Life Activities Clubs here.

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