The Decline System – challenging the narrative on ageing by Dr Mervyn Eastman

This is a guest blog from Mervyn Eastman Change AGEnts Network UK, CoDirector and Society Secretary. He wrote it originally for Age Action Alliance but they declined to publish it so I have posted it here with Mervyn’s Consent. Follow him on twitter at @MervChangeAGEnt

The Decline System

When the Government responded to Lord Filkin’s House of Lords Committee’s Report ‘ Ready For Ageing’ he slammed it as “ weak and failing to give leadership on the biggest social change facing our society “. The Government’s reaction showed yet again their incredible lack of informed debate and perpetrating the aging demographic as a crisis rather than being beneficial. No wonder the good Lord Filkin was so hacked off!
On the 8th of July I become officially an “ old age pensioner “ and given I am an early Boomer ( b 1945-1954 ), I will be one of millions who will, in ten to fifteen years time drain the poor public purse because our health and social care needs. Having denied our children their rightful legacy by spending all their inheritance, we will be storming Adult Social Care offices across this green and pleasant land clutching our Personalization budgets storming Adult Social Care offices across this green and pleasant land demanding replacement plasma screens.

This narrative has to be challenged and confronted, as in the words of Margaret Gullette * it is an “erosion of seniority and respect for ageing; that stops and reverses the manipulation of the cult of youth and the present narrative of fatalism about old age and obscures those forces that undermine our understanding of age and the fullest possible experience of life itself”. Gullette talks about ‘ the Decline System’- one of doom and one of gloom and which demonizes ageing and increasingly threatens the very fabric of our social and economic cohesion – my paraphrasing for dramatic effect. What’s the use of Blogging without any drama?

What are those threats from the entire decline system which she articulates as “the innocent absorption of cultural signals, youthful age anxiety, middle-ageism –which infiltrates our society from top to bottom”?
 Psychological well being
 Healthy brain functioning
 Public health
 Midlife job growth
 Full employment and the economic contribution of Older people
 Intergenerational Harmony
 The pursuit of happiness and the fullest possible experience of life itself

So as I hit this life course milestone of perceived “dotage”, what do I personally think is required from me? Firstly, confronting in every which way the pervasive Decline System on which much public policy and practice is based; adding my time and energy alongside the host of individuals and small locally run organisations out there striving to write a new narrative which challenges the current ageing construct. I come across them all the time, but often our influence is limited for lack of celebrity or political patronage, thus muting our collective voices, (an indictment on both civic and civil society).

Secondly, contributing to an enlightened and evidence based approach that confronts and transforms the ‘social epidemic’ of the decline system which has been my mission and passion personally and professionally for over forty years.

Again quoting my newly discovered cultural critic, “inviting us to step closer to our ageing bodies and souls and then remind us that we cannot step into another’s life course; can never wrap ourselves in their experience of ageing “

If we are to redefine ageing we surely must also face our own attitudes to that ageing. I hope to enjoy whatever later years are left me to experience new adventures and realize new ambitions but I realise I may have to face a period of poor acute or chronic ill health, but I do not want to be defined at 65 years as a potential burden when I’m in my late 70’s 80’s 90’s. I am me, not you, and I cannot define your own aging experience. I do not, as I draw my State Pension in a few months time want to be turned into a demographic ‘time bomb’ about to explode all over my local Co-op store !
Forgive the rant but unless we collectively re-write the mind-set of decline, thus promoting new paradigms of ageing and growing older we will simply remain invisible at best and derided at worse . Let Gullette have the last word “ Attitudes get enacted in laws and acted out through relationships. Context is everything.”

*Quotes taken from Gullette M, “Agewise”, The University of Chicago Press ( 2013)

Mervyn Eastman, Change AGEnts Network UK, CoDirector and Society Secretary

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