“Old age exists when you start saying: I’ve never felt so young”

-Jules Renard

“When they tell me I’m too old to do something, I try to do it right away”

-Pablo Picasso

“Death does not come with old age, but with oblivion”

-Gabriel García Márquez

What is the social imaginary of the old man from the adult’s point of view?

As a first step, I would like to reflect on the journey through time that the vision of the old man took and how it changed until it reached the present day. Today, we often have a negative image of the old man in Western societies , there is a myth of “eternal youth” that we believe can hide the passage of time. Today, where it is very fashionable, surgeries and beauty treatments, in their extreme use, are some of the ways to cover the passage of time.

The changes in the body can be raised as a scenario of prejudice and the importance of skin and being caressed as a way of communication and a way to prevent isolation.

Social factors

I consider as relevant the increase in life expectancy that began to be detected from the second half of the 20th century and the decrease in the fertility rate. The proportion of people over 60 years of age is increasing faster than any other age group in almost all countries. As a result, we must look at the positive things about this period, which is the simple fact of being alive. It is a challenge for society to value the role that older adults can play and to achieve maximum improvement in their quality of life and health, as well as their participation in society.

Old age, as explained in Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development, refers us to a psychological struggle of the individual during this vital stage.In today’s society, where advertising and image culture have great relevance, youth is a value that is rising and, on the contrary, old age is hidden and denied, to the point that many people of a certain age live obsessed with the negative sensations linked to aging. This is what is known as Gerascophobia.

A culture that rejects old age

The culture rewards youth as symbols of joy, success and fertility, while it repudiates old age, associating it with illness, asexuality and the absence of desires or projects. In the collective imagination, they plan set phrases such as “let him be, he’s old”, “he’s like this because he’s old”, not to mention verbs such as “raving” or “bumping”, which are often associated with people of a certain age.

Many professionals who deal with older people on a day-to-day basis feel that older people are not listened to but kept quiet.This is the exact opposite of what a person in his old age needs: to talk and be listened to, to communicate with his environment and to notice that he is useful and valued. Is there anything about the discourse of older people that we do not want to hear? This is another of the questions we ask ourselves when dealing with this issue.

Prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions about old age

Taking as reference the Argentine gerontopsychiatry Leopoldo Salvarezza and the American psychiatrist Robert Neil Butler, I consider that old age and its social imaginary represent:

  • An attitude of discrimination and unfounded prejudice towards the elderly.
  • The impossibility of placing oneself, in projection, as an old man.
  • Ignoring old age as a reality and as a vital stage.
  • Confusing old age and illness.
  • Confusing old age with senile dementia
  • Fantastic expectations and unproven treatments to stop the passage of time and try to achieve “eternal youth”.
  • Irrational biomedicalization of the aging process based on the medical paradigm.
  • Participation of the health professionals themselves, without gerontological training, in the criteria of old age.
  • Collective unconscious of the society that is usually gerontophobic and thanatophobic

We choose from desire

Psychoanalysis and its concept of desire gives us the possibility to “choose” the old man we want to be. We believe that neither happiness nor joy are attributes of the young, just as neither is the lack of desire characteristic of the old . These are prejudices that have been implanted for centuries and that lead the elderly to deny themselves when they feel desires, passions, emotions that supposedly “are no longer for their age”.

For this reason we should be less critical of our own body and more critical of social prejudices about the elderly , so that we are not left locked in a sense of shame towards ourselves.