You will no doubt be surprised to hear that there are many benefits to getting older not only for us as individuals, but also for society. Let’s explore what these advantages might be.
We have been brainwashed to believe the popular press who has associated ageing with reduced faculties, sagging skin, not to mention decaying bodies. Frankly, ageing is seen as a disease that needs to be cured. So what is the flipside of ageing?
It is not just our brains that get wiser as we get older, but also our blood cells. Our immune systems are bombarded by millions of dangers on a daily basis. Our blood cells develop an immune memory as it ages. The result is that it spots an old enemy such as colds a mile away, jumping into action to protect us from harm. Therefore, we are less susceptible to the common cold as we get older.
The immune system remembers enemies encountered over the years and protect us from them should they come along later on. For allergy sufferers the symptoms also decline in later life. In addition, migraine sufferers can also look forward to a reduction of migraines as they age.
Contrary to popular belief, the ageing brain becomes smarter. After years of practice we become much better at problem solving with an accumulation of certain types of knowledge. In a previous post I discussed the ageing brain and neuroscience at length. It has been discovered that the older brain becomes much more skilled at activating both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously. It is the reason why we become much more accomplished at reasoning and problem-solving as we get older.
As we age our self-esteem increases. We are much happier in our own skins later in life. It might be that the wisdom we develop helps us to appreciate the transient nature of many things we thought of as being important when we were young. We recognize that our true value and worth has little to do with how we look or what we do in the world, and everything to do with who we really are at a deeper level.
We also have a greater sense of positive well-being to look forward to. Negative emotions tend to decrease with age and we are less prone to the emotional rollercoaster of our youth. Thankfully our vulnerability towards stress and worry also reduces in later life. Getting older focuses the mind to realize that we have limited time on earth. We therefore become better at letting go of the trivial and focus on what is truly important in life. In addition, we also get to make fewer mistakes.
What about the benefits to society? The stereotype is that we become a burden to society needing increasing medical and social care. In fact, the baby boomer generation has been observed to have better health and is more physically active than preceding generations, therefore resulting in less cost to society. Research also suggests that approximately a quarter of our health bills are spent in the last year of our life and does not increase with age as popular belief would suggest.
The older generation also tends to become much more involved in voluntary services for obvious reasons. The benefit to society is that the older generation contributes significantly to the reduction of government expenditure on welfare. Grandparents also make a large contribution to childcare needs, reducing the cost of childcare arrangements to the younger generation.
Of course, there are downsides to getting older. However, there are so many advantages and the more we focus on these as opposed to the negatives, the more likely we will be able to enjoy our later years and share our experiences and wisdom with the rest of society.
I suggest therefore that both society and the older generation will benefit from focusing on the advantages of ageing, thereby increasing well-being later on in life and enhancing their contributions to society.