Images of ageing

Images of ageing are individual and social conceptions of old age (the state of being old), of ageing (the process of growing old) or of older people (as a social group). Images of ageing can also be expressed in concrete pictures, as in images in advertising. Images of ageing are neither ‘inevitable’ nor ‘natural’ but are social constructs dependent in their form on historical and cultural framework conditions. Images of ageing differ widely accord-ing to the social context. The answers given to every conceivable question raised about ageing throughout the ages and the different cultures are extremely varied, often conflicting, and some-times even downright contradictory. Old age always leaves room for different interpretations, evaluations and descriptions. Images of ageing grow in diversity in proportion to the degree of differentiation and variety in a society and the living patterns it practices. There is not just one image of ageing in a society, we are usually con-fronted with a variety of images competing with each other for dominance. Not even individuals have one single image of ageing in their minds, they have a whole repertoire. The dominant image of ageing is determined by a particular
situation or a particular life segment: in the area of long-term care, for instance, a different image of ageing prevails to that in the world of work. Someone who has just been watching the World Athletics Championship for seniors will have different ‘old age’ associations from someone just coming from their grandfather’s funeral. Differ-ent images also differ in im-portance: there are ‘large-scale’ images of ageing that are culturally definitive and only change over a very long period of time and there are fleeting, ‘small-scale’ images that can be rapidly replaced and change form.