Self-perceptions of ageing

We asked people what it was like growing older. Ageing was generally experienced as a gradual process that people did not worry much about. Some people felt the same as when they were young, and others felt they had grown in terms of their experience, knowledge, confidence and self-acceptance. There was also more tolerance toward others. A positive attitude was seen as an asset for being able to make the most of each day.

For most participants ageing has been a gradual, normal and inevitable process. Several people said they do not feel old, either because they see the world as they always have, they are able to do everything they want to do or because they interact a lot with young people (see Friends and community: Kaye).

While Katherine feels more knowledgeable in her older years, she still has the same outlook on life as when she was young.

Olga has not felt she is getting older because she has not been restricted by mobility or other health problems.

People accepted that ageing is part of the life course which often entails aches and pains and reduced capacity to do things (see The ageing body). While health was important for quality of life, people were not concerned about their chronological age. They tended to adapt their activities and interests to suit their abilities, and got on with life.

Getting older has been a normal and gradual process for Hans. He thinks it is best to accept ageing and to have interests.

Dorothy describes ageing as a progression. She has adapted her activities to what she is able to do.

Getting old has crept up on Ron because physically he has been well.

People tended to enjoy the smaller things in life more as they grew older, such as gardening and reading and the company of friends and family (see Interests and activities; see Family relationships; see Friends and community). A few people lamented about the ‘old days’ when they were younger and used to go dancing or ride their bike at night. Kaye pointed out that, in her opinion, the current generation is more focussed on material goods rather than valuing people.

As Chris is getting older, enjoying time with friends and family is taking over from his passion for work.

Participants spoke about the wealth of experience they have accumulated over their lifetime. They also felt more knowledgeable, more intelligent or able to understand the world better in their older years. Several people pointed out that this knowledge and experience should be utilized to help teach young people.

In her older years Marjorie feels she is wiser because she has more experience to draw on. She finds she is also more reflective on her personal relationships.

Katherine found that growing older was rewarding to a point, but in her experience there are few advantages to getting very old. She also reflects on how her life experiences have shaped her.

Tamara believes that older people have a lot of experience and can provide good advice to young people; however, they do not always listen.

With experience and knowledge, people became more confident and self-accepting as they grew older. People spoke about knowing themselves better, accepting their body, not being consumed with how they look and forgiving themselves. There was a sense that people became more ‘comfortable in their skin’ as they aged.

Chris is more comfortable with himself and more accepting of the world in his older years.

People we spoke to said they also became more patient as they got older. People described being more tolerant, less likely to bear grudges, not getting annoyed with people as easily and being more understanding. An example of this is that Marjorie was disappointed because her husband’s health issues meant they have had a very different life after retirement than the travel they had planned. She explained that she has only recently reached a point of acceptance and has modified her expectations in order “to do more things together that he is capable of doing”.

Marlene does not get as agitated as she used to when she was younger.

Because she has more knowledge and experience, Lan listens and is more tolerant in her older years.

Several people said it was easier for them to speak up and say what they wanted now that they were older. This was because they felt more freedom to be who they were, they were less likely to care what others thought or they did not feel they had to be as diplomatic as when they were younger.

Marie finds it easier to express her opinions and is less concerned about what people think.

Being older, Dot feels she has more freedom of expression.

When Robyn was younger she felt she had to be more diplomatic.

Many people spoke about the importance of having a positive attitude in their older years. People confronted health problems and made the best of every day. They tended to be grateful for what they had and liked to focus on being happy.

Rebecca thinks a positive outlook is the key to a happy life, and she appreciates everything she has.

When Earl was very sick with pneumonia he found it was important to think positively and stay strong.

Dolores thinks it is important to make the most of what you are given in life and is grateful for what she has now.