Recently, I heard the phrase “Stand up and speak out”. And I realised that that is exactly what I’m doing with my book, Engaging with Ageing: What matters as we grow older. I’m standing up and speaking out in my way, by writing about what I feel passionate about. And that is to give a reality check to what growing older – and old – is all about. En
As I see it, ageing is just another stage of life, with its particular ups and downs, no better and definitely no worse than any other stage that we’ve lived through. And so, through my book, I wanted to counteract the anti-ageing and ageism that we see far too much of in a society that overvalues youth and undervalues age.
Ageing is not to be feared, or denied, but to be fully engaged in: to be made the most of, enjoyed where possible, and managed in all of its rich complexity. My book covers big ticket items like changes in appearance, retirement as transition, lifestyle choices, sex in old age, taking care of our bodies and our minds – including how to manage challenges such as falls prevention and the possibility of living with dementia – and all the way up to thinking about what each of us would want for a good death.
It also looks at a rich variety of ways in which we can choose to spend the extra time many of us are lucky enough to have, such as on encore careers, volunteering, memoir writing, inter-generational travel, exploring new experiences, joining interesting groups, and becoming an anti-ageism activist.
It took me 13 years of writing, rewriting and since my book was published I find myself becoming an enthusiastic pro-ageing and anti-ageism activist, spruiking the messages in my book through articles and talks that I’m giving at a whole variety of venues, from libraries and seniors’ festivals and expos to nursing homes, special interest groups, and even on national TV.
And I’m living with what has become my mantra, and the essence of my book: the words of the writer Benjamin Law, “Sure we’re all going to die. But getting old: that’s a privilege, Baby!”
There is no one answer to how to age. Each of us has to work out what works for us as individuals. So, this is by no means a prescriptive rule book – just a guide to stimulate thinking about how each of us can choose to do ageing.
My hope is that the older women and men who read my book will find it useful in thinking about their own choices, in managing those consequences of the older ages that might crop up, while making the most of the opportunities and positives that we have as older people.
Younger people need insights into what matters in old age, both for their own futures, and – more immediately – to give them more understanding of their older family members and friends, and those with whom they might have a caring relationship.
While we are making the most of our own lives, we can also contribute to social change in attitudes to ageing, so that there can come a time when it becomes an accepted thing of pride to acknowledge, simply, being old. And happy about it.
Anne Ring is a health sociologist, freelance writer, and author of “Engaging with Ageing: What matters as we grow older”. See annering.au for more information about her book and her life.