A new concept of ageing

We need to change the way people think about ageing and also how they feel about ageing. Ageing – and age identity – is a fluid and multi-dimensional concept that is experienced differently by the individual, but is shaped by our social and cultural contexts. Beliefs about ageing are normalised in society but can be challenged, resisted and negotiated. We do not have to accept ageing as a negative process.

A new concept of ageing – of living and ageing well – draws together the characteristics that research suggests are a key part of living and ageing well, which includes staying connected to friends, family and community; keep body and mind actively engaged; having a positive outlook and satisfaction with life; having meaning and purpose; being valued by others; and having a voice and being listened to.

We need to look beyond the stereotypes associated with older people. The individuals involved in Encountering the Unexpected came from very diverse backgrounds and life experiences, many challenging the negative stereotypes of older people as inactive, disengaged, unable to learn new things and set in their ways. We met and engaged with activists, poets, artists, radio DJs, bloggers, environmentalists, people who are still very active in their communities and who care about the future. This short film shows how perceptions of older people can be challenged by the reality of working with them:

However, it is not only the individual’s responsibility to change perceptions. It requires a shift in societal attitudes and engagement from a broad range of agencies and organisations. What implications does this have for museums?

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Museums and older people