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08 Aug 2022

Ageless words about growing older


How we talk about our life, our situation and the undoubted challenges of ageing will shape and shift beliefs, practices, health and wellbeing.

British physician and scholar Dr John Gladman says that ageing is naturally associated with the undesirable issues of physical decline and social loss. But it is also linked with the positive issue of ‘personal growth and development’, which is more likely when people have hope, are not lonely, and maintain their health.

"Other studies exploring the experience of ageing describe that positive processes can occur such as developing an acceptance of ill-health and a sense of accomplishment and improving the well-being of others—what the psychologist Erik Erikson referred to as ‘generativity’ Sometimes religiosity and family life are associated with these processes, but they are not confined to the religious or those with children.”

Taking the widest view of the role of health and social care professionals, it is incumbent upon us to deal not only with the negative issues of ageing such as physical decline and social loss but also to promote personal growth and development. Even in the face of these negative aspects associated with ageing.

The ‘other side’ of frailty

A problem with the frailty concept is that it is a negative one. And those with related problems might think there is nothing bright about this plight.

This might be one reason why the word itself is often not liked by those to whom it might be applied. But what is frailty the reverse of? It could be the word ‘robust’ when used to refer to a physical state which is resistant to challenge—a person who walks stooped or whom falls.

A different positive concept is ‘resilience’ which refers not only to resistance to challenge but also, and crucially, the ability to bounce back from adversity.

It is this latter aspect of resilience that makes it suitable to accommodate the positive aspects of personal growth and development seen in ageing. Models of resilience understand it as a multifactorial concept arising from multiple ‘assets’—in one model, these were described as physical, mobility, psychological, financial, environmental, social and cultural domains. The model predicts that resilience can be enhanced through enriching any or many of these asset domains.


Ageless words about growing older

Dr Gladman continues on this theme.

“Of primary importance, I suggest, is for practitioners to be aware that personal growth and development is possible even in the face—and in many instances because of—physical loss and social loss. I’d go so far as to say that not to be aware of this is a form of stereotyping and ageism. If practitioners don’t think that there is a positive aspect to the ageing process, then they are unlikely ever to try to promote it. When I personally slip into negative stereotyping about old age, I am less likely to be helping my patients."

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Date Published: August 2022

To be reviewed: August 2025