“What happens when you are old?”
“I think you go in a bungalow.”
The interviewee in Channel 4’s “Old People’s Home for 4 year Olds” will probably find her answer played and replayed in the years to come. It is the sort of thing that appears at wedding receptions, moments from childhood that might be thought humorous or embarrassing.
The answer is born of honesty, though. The child’s belief is that with advancing years one moves to a particular form of housing. The thought might arise from empirical evidence, perhaps the child lives near bungalows that are accommodation for older people, perhaps someone in the child’s own family has moved from a house in which they have lived for years to spend their latter years in a single storey building. What is encouraging in the response of the four year old is that there is no perception of being old as something restrictive or negative. The child sees a move that might be felt severely by the person who has made it as simply a matter of fact, not as something that is going to impinge upon a person’s general quality of life.
The question about what happens when one grows old might have met with any number of answers, many of them would have related to incapacity or death, they would have open to negative or gloomy interpretation. An open answer, an answer that admitted of an unlimited range of possibilities, suggests a view of ageing where freedom and choice are still readily available.
Forty years ago, to be eighty years old meant one was very old and that one would be reasonable if one passed one’s days sitting in an armchair, perhaps going out to visit friends or go to church, but certainly not to engage in active life. With the advances in healthcare, it has become physically possible to avoid the sedentary life that marked the advancing years of those from former generations, but, from thirty years of conversations with older people, the biggest changes have been in the mindsets of people, there has been a growing unwillingness to simply accept the lifestyle of the aged of former times. Even when there is physical incapacity, technology now is such that one does not have to choose to pass one’s days in an inactive way.
Perhaps, in another thirty years, the choices being made now will be considered as being as cautious as passing one’s time sat at the fireside, or perhaps they will be considered as being a revolution in their own way.
When asked what happens when we get old, may the worse we have to say is that we think we go in a bungalow.
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