Images Of Old Age: How We Imagine Old Age

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Images Of Old Age: How We Imagine Old Age
Images Of Old Age: How We Imagine Old Age

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Images of old age: How we imagine old age

What image do you associate with age? Is it the image of an active, independent person who stands in life and spends time with fulfilling activities? Or do you associate being old with social withdrawal, health problems and the need for help? There are different images of age in our society. They influence our personal ideas about age - but also how we ourselves deal with age-related changes. And they play a role in how we behave towards older people.

Getting older is a process that goes from birth to death. People develop differently, for example with regard to lifestyle, social behavior, interests, willingness to learn, state of health, income, etc. Images of old age have a major influence on the process of aging and the realization of development opportunities in old age. How older people are represented in pictures of old age and how these pictures are perceived individually plays a major role.

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  • What images of age are there?
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  • What can a positive image of old age look like?

Getting older is a process that goes from birth to death. People develop differently, for example with regard to lifestyle, social behavior, interests, willingness to learn, state of health, income, etc. Images of old age have a major influence on the process of aging and the realization of development opportunities in old age. How older people are represented in pictures of old age and how these pictures are perceived individually plays a major role.

Images of old age are certain notions of a person about old age: of the state of being old, of the process of getting older or of older people as a social group. There are also certain ideas about this in society. However, they do not exist by nature, but are social constructions that arise through the coexistence of people in their living environments (settings).

In everyday life, these social constructions have a relieving function for us: They are spontaneously available, practiced behavior patterns so that we do not have to constantly learn new behavior in certain life situations. For example, when we have learned to be careful with frail people and give them a seat on public transport.

What images of age are there?

In society there is not just “one” image of old age, but a multitude. Individuals also usually have several different images of age in their heads. Older people are afflicted with both negative and positive prejudices: on the one hand “frail, lonely, in need of care”, on the other hand “prudent, experienced, kind”. Although these images can apply to some elderly people, they do not have to apply to a specific person. For example, one can have a deficit-oriented view of an elderly person in need of care and overlook their development opportunities. But one can also have a positive view of an old person who attracts attention to future generations through knowledge or commitment and thereby suppresses their possible physical vulnerability.

Scientists underline: There is no division into a purely positive and a purely negative image of age, but rather diverse images of age. These are reflected in a person's different life plans, for example how they organize their free time, participate in social life in the family and with friends, deal with partnerships, deal with loneliness, etc.

Images of old age are changeable - depending on the social context in which they stand: for example in the world of work, in the media and in advertising, in education, in health care or in nursing. The image of working in old age is also changing due to changes in the framework conditions, such as the increasing proportion of older workers or the shortage of skilled workers.

How are images of old age conveyed?

Images of old age are reflected in opinions and attitudes that are shared between people. Images of old age are often conveyed through images, i.e. visual representations of older people. Language is also an important medium for images of old age. We sometimes find clichés and prejudices in everyday communication. This becomes clear, for example, when people with elderly people in need of care or those affected by dementia are spoken to in simplified, child-like language instead of appreciative communication.

Common idioms are also used to convey negative effects relating to age, for example “What you don't learn in your youth, you never learn in old age.” The idea that as an old person you are no longer capable of teaching is not correct. Memory performance declines with age. However, everyone is capable of dealing with new things well into old age. Lifelong learning is even an important key to an active, self-determined life in old age.

What are the effects of images of old age?

Images of old age are often shaped by prejudices and simplified ideas. Negative images of old age influence our behavior when dealing with old people. Anyone who believes that old age is primarily associated with frailty, illness, loneliness and mental decline will more likely see their deficits in everyday personal contact with old people.

Such prejudices make it more difficult for old people to use their existing potential and to lead a responsible, independent life. If older people adapt to these prejudices themselves, they are more likely to occur (“self-fulfilling prophecy”).

For example, when caregivers only see a negative image of age in people in need of care: This attitude unconsciously supports dependency or insufficient attention to the need for independence in old people.

Prejudices and negative images of age stand in the way of healthy aging. They can lead to discrimination and marginalization of old people. Negative images of old age can also help establish practices in institutions that - often without intent - support unjustified opinions and unequal treatment.

In contrast, scientific studies show the advantages of a positive image of old age. Older people with a positive view of old age and a positive self-image have more confidence in themselves, remain more physically active or take part in social activities more often than people with a negative self-image. A positive image of old age is also associated with a higher life expectancy.

In order to maintain and promote health, independence and dignity in old age, an individual view of the needs, interests and abilities of a person and of the life situation is necessary. It is important to recognize that the elderly are not a homogeneous group, but that individual differences become more important as they get older.

What can a positive image of old age look like?

Old age can be seen as a phase of life in which one can realize oneself. You are more balanced. Health problems can occur, but it is still possible to train the body and mind and be active. You can learn something new into old age. Your own attitudes can also develop further. Lively social contacts with family or friends enrich life. Life experience is valued, you are also there for others and are socially integrated. There is also the possibility of volunteering and thus continuing to actively participate in shaping society and making a valuable contribution.

The brochure of the Healthy Austria Fund “Getting older, staying active” offers suggestions for a positive image of old age.

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