“Virtuous Ageing”: another way to be who you are

Did you know I teach an online course for the School of Public Health and Social Policy at UVic on ‘Healthy Ageing’?

The ageing of the world’s population – in developing and developed countries – is an indicator of improving global health. Older people make important contributions to society as family members, volunteers and as active participants in the workforce. The wisdom they have gained through life experience makes them a vital social resource. (WHO, 10 facts on ageing and the life course, Oct 2014).

  • The world’s population of people 60 years of age and older has doubled since 1980 and is forecast to reach 2 billion by 2050.
  • By 2050 the world will have almost 400 million people aged 80 years or older.
  • The main health burdens for older people, even in the poorest countries, are heart disease, stroke, arthritis and dementia.
  • The need for long term care is rising; the number of older people who are no longer able to look after themselves in developing countries is forecast to quadruple by 2050.
  • Creating “age-friendly” physical and social environments can have a big impact on improving the active participation and independence of older people.

But, what does it mean to ‘age’? We need to re-evaluate our assumptions around ‘old age’.

the 4 people who are my role models for being 'old'... my grandparents. LtoR: Grampy Roland, Nanny Roland, Nanny Sainthill & Poppy Sainthill with baby Kate (that's me!) at my Christening

the 4 people who are my role models for being ‘old’… my grandparents.
LtoR: Grampy Roland, Nanny Roland, Nanny Sainthill & Poppy Sainthill with baby Kate (that’s me!) at my Christening (1984).

Dr. Hanne Laceulle, who writes about the philosophy of aging at the University of Humanistics in the Netherlands, proposes 3 ways to think about ageing:

1. Age well… which can sometimes be (mis?)interpreted at doing everything you can to  ‘stay young’.

2. Give in to the inevitable decline … give up and get old.

3. Or, why not consider ageing simply another process of becoming who you are?

She points out that both ‘staying young’ or ‘giving up’ are problematic because they add no value to late life in itself and set people up for defeat. By considering aging as ‘who you are’, it gives people permission to success at some thing – wisdom, tolerance, humour, love – and fail at others – bad hips, bad hearing. This freedom to fail as you age is liberating! It stops blaming ourselves for dependences that come with age, while acknowledging this loss.

Ageing is a part of life to negotiate like any other.

So instead of “active aging” or “positive aging” or “anti-aging,” Laceulle thinks we should take a cue from ancient thinkers like Aristotle and embrace what she calls “virtuous ageing.” much love.

 

 

Resources:

Herald Tribune. B. Peters Smith (Nov 2014).

 

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