Ageing, as I like to remind anybody arguing around the ageing ‘problem’, is among the greatest achievements of the 20th and up to now the 21st centuries. I supported in a previous post that it could be possible to use the ageing of a society as an indicator of development and progress. It stands as one step to sustainability. Is it so different from the economic situation? Does ageing take place simultaneously as an economy flourishes? And the mirror question: what happens to older people when the economic takes a down turn?
Photo from www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk
As many, I am concerned with the Western countries’ economies and it is only moderate to assume that years gained from death are largely supported by State funding. It is not really thanks to increasingly stable solidarity networks of localities or family support that people have become older. I am not ignoring their role but I believe that a society where the concept of extended family gets weaker does not participate in increasing the longevity of its older members. As a consequence, if State support was to diminish (as it is the case already), it is a natural consequence that people will start dying at a younger age.
I remember one of my interviews with an older lady of more than 90 years arguing against the closure of a local leisure centre in London:
Agnes: If they close this place, lots of these people wouldn’t get out of bed. They’d be in bed, they wouldn’t cook. Now, with me, I have a dinner down here, I go home and cook in the evening. These people, they only have one dinner here, ’til the next day for them to have another dinner. So what would they do? If this closes, they would rot. I told the eight people in the council.
Lauren: That’s probably what they want us to do.
Agnes: Yea, yea. I told them in the council. These people, now, with me, I’m fortunate, I go home and cook, but they don’t cook. And I said, they wait for the next day they don’t do a bit of shopping, they wait for their carers to get a bit of shopping. (…) God, if this closes, there’d be a lot of death I tell you.
Having an old society is a fragile and threatened state. The health of the oldest citizens is a clairvoyant image of the health of society as older people may turn out to be the first victims of a long-term economic downturn.