A Long Time Coming: Essays on old age

Melanie Joosten

A Long Time Coming: Essays on old age
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A Long Time Coming: Essays on old age

Melanie Joosten

Improved health care and increased standards of living mean that each generation is living longer than the last. Rather than heralding this as a success, governments see our ageing population as an imminent disaster and old age as a medical problem. In response, we are encouraged to remain active, stay healthy and work longer - in short, to refuse becoming old. But if living longer is really about staying young, do we risk turning a blind eye to issues facing the elderly?

Written with intelligence and compassion, Joosten’s pieces consider the housing crisis as it affects older people, the politics of nursing-home care, the realities of dementia, and women’s changing relationship to their bodies as they age. Weaving interviews with research and personal essay, Joosten undertakes a timely and clear-sighted investigation into what it means to age in a world focused on the young. Arguing that every one of us has the right to be old while maintaining integrity, these essays ask us to reconsider our individual and collective experiences to find meaning and come to terms with growing old.

Review

My father’s former partner died a few years ago at the aged care home her 90-year-old cousin, Eric, and I had been forced to place her in. Whenever we’d visit her, Eric would invariably shudder and say that all those old people gave him the willies.

In a series of provocative essays, Melanie Joosten examines our attitudes to old age and what it means to be old. Why do we, and people like Eric, see ageing as failure rather than a valid and often positive stage of life? The suicide rate for older people, especially older men over 85, is the highest in the community. Suicide is not necessarily the result of depression and anxiety, but more a product of pain and loneliness. We have little empathy for these people, writing off their deaths as of little consequence as they’ve had a ‘fair innings’, denying them respect.

Much is being written about the difficulties the young face getting into the housing market, but, as Ms Joosten points out, housing insecurity and homelessness are huge problems for the elderly and unless the issues of affordable housing are addressed the issues are going to become greater as our aged population grows. As we live longer we need to work out how we can make that stage of our lives positive for all, and not a burden.


Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings.

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