There has been precious little good to come out of the global pandemic that over the last year has turned the world upside down. Could it be, however, that one unexpected silver lining comes from this time: namely that COVID could change our attitude to ageing? After living through a global health crisis, will more people realise that growing old is a gift?
In modern times, diet, medicine and economic prosperity have combined to make us almost take a long life for granted. It had become easy to believe that we had left scary early mortality rates behind. Yet not that long ago life was much more precarious; The Office for National Statistics states that in 1841 the average new born baby girl would not be expected to see her 43rd birthday. Whereas now, a girl born in 2018 has a one in five chance of living to 100.
It felt we had become all but immune to the prospect of death.
And then COVID struck.
And suddenly we were dealing with something which seemed medieval. We had to hide in our homes from the ravages of a disease which struck without mercy, while health services across the world struggled to cope and scientists raced to find a vaccine.
Suddenly we realised we weren’t immortal.
People died and we all had to keep our distance from each other to prevent infection from spreading. In the sharp pain of realising what could be lost, we realised what we most treasure. Spending time with those we love; having time that stretches out full of possibility; full of socialising and celebrations; family gatherings; quiet chats and raucous nights out. Time to travel; learn; and have fun. Time to live; to grow old; to age.
To AGE. Yes please, because as the saying goes, it’s better than the alternative.
According to the Centre for Ageing Better, an independent charitable foundation, there are currently 12 million people aged 65 and over in the UK and it is estimated that by 2036, one in four of the population will be over 65.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs reports that in 2018 globally, the number of people over the age of 65 outnumbered those under the age of 5 for the first time in history.
So rather than dreading getting older, it's about time we champion the prospect of living for as long as possible, of spending more precious days with our loved ones. Of not worrying about - heaven forbid - the signs of age appearing on our older faces.
In the media and advertising, images of older people are often pitiable, if not downright negative or absent entirely. From an aesthetics point of view, we are urged to do all we can to fight off signs of ageing: wrinkles are not fit to be seen, grey hair be gone. An unrealistic portrayal of age.
So rather than treating such a large proportion of humanity as irrelevant, invisible or pitiful, it's about time we respect the years that people have spent on this earth, of the journeys they've been on, the highs and the lows of life they've experienced, the wisdom they've earnt. And it's about time we champion the beauty that comes with age, in all its forms, rather than dreading the onset of wrinkles.
Let’s embrace the passing years, if we are lucky enough to have them, and let’s start prizing age for the gift it is.
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