Combatting the negative image of old age

Jun 20, 2019 | BLOG

By: Joyce Williams

We have a problem. All of us. The problem is that in our society we have internalised a negative view of ageing. This negative image is inappropriate for ageing in today’s world. Not only is it unhelpful, it is actually harmful.

The UK has 11.9m people over 65 who have to live with this view of who they are. A further 12m in their middle years are moving towards it. They fear it. Businesses promote that fear for profit. Employers unthinkingly discriminate on the basis of it.

A stream of stories on the problems of ageing emerge from the media. The NHS and age-related charities need to highlight these issues too. And so add to it.

We hear and absorb the bad news. It is no-one’s role to counteract it. No one corrects when facts are slanted or ignored. Myths about age continue to circulate. In spite of the rapid and powerful improvements in the health, longevity and life quality of older people over the last few decades, little of this good news is published.

A negative view of old age, whether held by others, or by ourselves, is harmful. It affects health, mental and physical, social wellbeing, and the extent to which we enjoy life. It affects employment opportunities and certainly underlies many of the problems facing the NHS and social services.

Retail markets and business too are not yet seeing past the stereotype and are failing to use a potential new market effectively.

The current image of old age is now seriously distorted. It is wrong. We have created a large, active, busy, valuable, mature group of people with skills and know-how. Very many of them are living these new bonus years with high levels of happiness and life satisfaction. They are virtually invisible.

Problems occur with ageing, but most are sortable. New hips and knees, and they are off skiing and dancing again. Much of the deterioration associated with age is avoidable. Yet the majority of younger people see old age as a steep downhill path.

The myth that old age involves a steady decline needs to be dispelled.

Distorted facts need correction. For example, the majority of young people associate age with Alzheimer’s, yet the actuality is that only 7% of people over 65 have that problem. And that the level of happiness in ones 70s is higher than at any other stage of life is not commonly recognised!

Time now for a public change in the view of old age. It is urgent. We need to create an accurate positive image, one that dispels the myths and scaremongering.

We need a major PR campaign.

But there is a  problem. As yet, no one has the responsibility, the funding, or even a strategy for taking on that role. It is up to individuals and small groups. The larger age-related charities cannot easily do it. Their task is to highlight problems, find solutions and raise funds for that purpose.

Though there is hope. Reimagining Ageing is certainly the future.

This is so particularly in relation to the workforce. A recent report by selected MPs gives hope that parliament may take some action in that direction.

However the key targets remain:

  • The creation of a new positive vision of ageing amongst the general public, particularly those in their middle years;
  • The encouragement of Age Pride and Pride in Ageing at all stages of life.

It needs to become the next trend!

At Future of Ageing 2019, I will be presenting a marketing strategy that can be used to promote a needed new fresh image of later years. It will show techniques of reaching the general public and the other seven target groups we need to reach who too, unwittingly, have internalised the current negative view.

Joyce Williams

Joyce Williams


Joyce is a Yorkshire born Physiotherapist whose career took her to the Chair of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. She began blogging 3 years ago aged 80, campaigning to challenge the  stereotypical image of old age as being unhelpful and wrong. Aiming to  alert the media and the public to the ‘Unthinking Ageism’ of today her blogs highlight the positives and pleasures of being old.