Purposeful Ageing: Doing Something Meaningful Crucial to Health

December 21, 2018

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

 

Gone are the days when virtually no one could expect to celebrate their fifth birthday. The 20th century saw a great increase in life expectancy, with most seniors in developed countries now living as many as eighty or ninety years or more – without becoming a Guinness book record holder. In developing countries, the trend is the same.

Today, people live longer than they used to, but instead of valuing having several more decades to make up for the things you did in the past and become a better person, we are facing a barrage of fears. What will come about if the numbers of the elderly continue to increase (which is likely to be the case)? Will the young be deprived of resources and opportunities used by seniors instead? And will healthcare costs remain the dominating issue in the field of aging as portrayed by the media?

As of this moment, the elderly are generally perceived by society as incapable of doing anything useful. Ripe old age is now associated with dementia, not experience and wisdom, like it used to be in the past. The shift in focus has affected the fastest growing population segment profoundly. In this day and age, a senior employee is regarded as someone who is not productive, hinders workflow, and even takes away a job from prospective younger counterparts. Rarely do seniors have an opportunity to share their experience and make use of their skills. Not only does this stereotype have a negative impact on economy, but it also renders aging a period that is feared – and not because of the prospect of having insufficient money (which is also not uncommon), but because of not having a purpose in life.

 

Photo by Tiago Muraro on Unsplash

Lack of purpose

The man was created to take care of the planet, to modify the world we live in in a way that benefits nature and society, and to work on who we are. When a person retires, they no longer have an opportunity to contribute, to be socially useful, and to feel that they have a reason to keep on living. Without this feeling, the body – without even making us aware of it – starts to deteriorate, and diseases strike.

The pain caused by lack of purpose in life is often greater than the physical one. Studies show that having a responsibility and a degree of independence from other people are what can improve well-being, both mental and physical, of seniors. Being able to function and actually do meaningful things is crucial to health, and even studies carried out at nursing homes found that residents who had been given choice and assigned duties (even if it’s only watering a plant) were less likely to die.

 

Economic impact

Now that people live longer, we must find a place for seniors in society. As of this moment, there is not much they can do, and even those who still have a job run the risk of losing it simply because of having gray hair. The elderly are widely marginalized, and such negative stereotypes have a wide range of detrimental effects on both seniors themselves and society.

Contrary to popular belief, seniors are not slow or incompetent. The extensive experience they have is often underestimated, while it can be of great use to their younger colleagues. A study found that teams consisting of employees from different generations, including seniors, are more effective in terms of generating new ideas. Besides, the level of productivity continues to increase up to age 65 and beyond (there were no older participants in that study, which means this is not the limit). The elderly are also less likely to make serious mistakes, they are more punctual, and have a lot to share with youngsters. Research suggests that having seniors as employees benefits economic strength significantly without leaving young people jobless.

 

What can we do?

First, we should reevaluate our attitude to ageing and seniors. It is only after we realize that gray hair and wrinkles are not indicative of uselessness that positive changes in society can take place. How society views the elderly is crucial to their well-being. It is time we remembered that old age is to be respected.

Second, the need for doing something meaningful and contributing, which is felt by virtually any elderly person, must be addressed by the government. There are programs – and quite successful ones – that prove that seniors can be great tutors, companions, etc. Not only that, feeling that you are helping to make the world a better place results in a healthier population, which in its turn leads to a decrease in healthcare costs.

Third, the very concept of ageing, as it is seen nowadays, needs reevaluation. With more years to live, people get more opportunities – to think about what you have done over all these years, what was wrong, and what can still be changed.

Being a senior must not mean being alone, with no reason to get up in the morning. Working, taking care of relatives and other people in general, doing something useful and meaningful, maintaining a decent level of physical activity – another aspect of healthy ageing – and constantly learning something new (as it helps your brain stay healthy) are what many seniors really need but fail to do. And it is society as a whole that should create the conditions needed to make ageing purposeful – the way it is supposed to be.

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