When I was 15 I thought The Who were speaking for me when their lead guitarist Pete Townsend penned the words “Hope I die before I get old”. As part of the post-war baby-boomer generation, I thought I would be young forever.
Just like others born in the two decades after the Second World War there was a spirit of optimism about the future during our childhoods. Baby-boomers were the first “teenagers”. We lived through the swinging sixties and flower power, we listened to new music genres from The Beatles to heavy rock bands, those of us lucky to have a University education did not have to pay for it.
Many of us baby boomers are now reinventing ageing. Providing we are still fit and healthy we can still run a Marathon if we want to. We can continue to work and many of us do. We can ditch the grey hair – or embrace it. If we have the money we can travel the world – climb Kilimanjaro – walk the Great Wall of China or travel the UK in a Camper Van.
Even The Who are still touring, as are many of the bands of that time, although these days the given beverage is usually a mug of green tea rather than a bottle of whisky. This should be a positive story but the media are increasingly portraying later life as a major national negative issue.
There seems to be two stereotypes that the media love to promote when it comes to stories about later life. Freeloading final salary pensioners, living the high-life, rattling around in a £1million home all because we were born lucky when university education was free and jobs for life were plentiful. The state pension is seen as a “benefit” that we are not entitled to. The politics of envy comes into play. (Of course the years of struggling to pay high mortgage rates and saving hard so we would be better off than OUR parents doesn’t count)
If we are unlucky enough to have health issues, then we are blocking all the hospital beds from more acute cases because of an overwhelmed care system. In this scenario people in their later life are seen as a “burden” on our society.
When did you last see a media story about the role older people often play in looking after their grandchildren, helping their own children go to out work and contribute to the economy?
When did you last see a media story about the massive contribution made to the voluntary sector by older people, providing their expertise and labour free of charge for the greater good? When did you last see a story about the elderly carer looking after his or her partner who has dementia or a terminal or life threatening health condition often with minimal outside support and saving the state millions?
We should celebrate older people, dispel the myths and promote how we can ALL get the best out of our later life – because one given is that it comes to most of us sooner or later.