Let's Rethink the Meaning of Ageing

19 Mar 2013

CHeBA Blog: Let's Rethink the Meaning of Ageing

HEIDI DOUGLASS | h.douglass@unsw.edu.au

Historically, none of us have particularly looked forward to growing 'old'. If you ask a wide demographic to define the word 'ageing', a range of pessimistic viewpoints will filter in, such as loss of independence, burden to others, physical incapability, loneliness, hip replacements, dementia and loss of dignity. It seems that, for many people, the path to ageing appears to be a steep decline into misery.

A predominant reason for this is that age catches us by surprise. We're unprepared. We've been happily going about our business of day to day life and then all of a sudden we endure an injury or illness that ages us quickly, or a teenager tells his friend to make way for the 'old man'. Or our mental capacity isn't quite what it used to be and we panic. Or we just look in the mirror and we're genuinely shocked at the lined and tired looking face staring back at us.

The canvas upon which we've colourfully painted our life all of a sudden looks dreary, and it drags us down into the abyss of unhappiness.

Obviously this is a strong generalisation, and not everyone feels quite so glum about the ageing process, however, it is pertinent to note that for many people this scenario is all too real. The members of society that are already in this camp need our help. Particularly because all of these factors are a slippery slope into clinical depression, and the current generation of older people have gone through life believing you never admit to not being able to cope. After all, it was only a couple of generations back that people were readily confined to 'lunatic' asylums for demonstrating anxiety, post-natal depression or even menopause! Although the approach to depression is now compassionate, you can understand the inherent desire for older people not to speak out.

According to a new book, Managing Depression Growing Older, co-written by CHeBA's Henry Brodaty, "growing old is not a diagnosis and becoming depressed is not a normal accompaniment of ageing."

The time has come to really re-think our definitions of ageing. To prepare for our later years physically and mentally, and once we are there, to feel confident to seek the assistance we need to manage in late life. This book is a resolute starting point. It aims to bring the 'invisible people' - that is, older people with depression - out of the shadows and give them and their carers a voice. The hope of the authors is to reduce the double stigma of ageism (ie. discrimination just for being old) and mental illness, as well as contribute to a better understanding of the varying aspects of growing older and increase kindness and wisdom in dealing with depression.

Managing Depression Growing Older by Henry Brodaty, Kerrie Eyers and Gordon Parker received the 2012 Australasian Journal on Ageing Book Award.

To purchase a copy of this book go to www.allenandunwin.com