Rethinking Age in the Context of Care

Age- and stage-based assumptions are deeply embedded in care models and across care practices (Grenier, 2012). Whether care is used to refer broadly to a concept, institutional and organisational practices, or to denote relationships between families and older people, age and care are intricately intertwined. This entry focuses on care provision as a site from which to consider the intersections of age and care, and whether current models are in line with older people’s needs, and the new realities of ageing. Care is often linked with discourses of dependence, and paradoxically associated with potential in youth, and decline in age (see Irwin, 1995; Gullette, 2004). In late life, care tends to be delivered based on age eligibility. Yet, with age and what it ‘means to grow old’ an increasingly contested terrain, it is time to reconsider how age is enacted or sustained through care practices, and consider whether age-based models of care are suitable in the contemporary context.

 

A number of complexities exist when we begin to unpick age and the organisation of care. Formal care provision tends to be delivered through age-based segments of youth and old age. Few formal care services are life-long. Yet, the separation of the life course into age- and stage-based periods, age as an organising principle, and former notions of ageing as decline have been called into question (Featherstone and Hepworth, 1991; Hockey and James, 2003). At the level of personal experience, older people voice that ‘they are not old’ – that the age they are assigned contrasts with their experience and sense of self (see Kaufman, 1986; Bytheway, 2011). This has created a disjuncture where suggested models and expectations are concerned, as well as an alignment with new forms of ageing that emphasise success, health and well-being (see Katz, 2005). And while universal understandings of age are quickly being unravelled, undeniable needs for care amongst older people continue to exist. Older people may need care at various points across their life course as a result of disability or chronic illness, ‘frailty’ or end of life issues, and/or at particular marginalised locations (e.g., poverty, older homelessness). Yet, are such needs for care age-based?

 

We are at a crossroads where the age-based provision of care is concerned. Although reconfigurations of policy based on chronological age are underway (e.g., public pension), current examples focus on age adjustments, rather than on differing needs or alternate arrangements. Perhaps the retention of age is prudent considering the realities of ageism, reconfiguring age to reduce social expenditure, and the structured inequities in late life (see Gee and Gutman, 2000). However, the contemporary context calls for reflection at minimum. How do we catch up with emerging realities of aging and adjust the organisation of care accordingly? Should age be used to organise care services? If so, in what circumstances? If not, how can we assure that those in need are not further marginalised? Such questions represent a starting point from which to reconsider age-based models of care, question underlying assumptions, and reconfigure care practices so that they are more aligned with changing notions of age and contemporary care needs.

 

Amanda Grenier, PhD, Associate Professor, McMaster University

email: amanda.grenier@mcmaster.ca

twitter: @amanda__grenier

 

References:

Bytheway, B. (2011). Unmasking age: the significance of age for social research. Bristol: The Policy Press.

Featherstone, M., and Hepworth, M. (1991). ‘The mask of ageing and the postmodern lifecourse’ In M. Featherstone, M. Hepworth and A. Wernick (eds) Images of ageing, London: Routledge.

Gee, E. M., and Gutman, G. M. (2000). The overselling of population aging: apocalyptic demography, intergenerational challenges, and social policy, New York: Oxford University Press.

Grenier, A. (2012). Transitions and the lifecourse: challenging the constructions of ‘growing old‘. Bristol: Policy Press.

Gullette, M. M. (2004). Aged by culture, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hockey, J., and James, A. (2003). Social identities across the lifecourse, Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan.

Irwin, S. (1995). Rights of passage: social change and the transition from youth to adulthood,  London and Bristol: UCL Press.

Katz, S. (2005). Cultural aging: life course, lifestyle, and senior worlds, Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

Kaufman, S. (1986). The ageless self: sources of meaning in late life, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.