Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Active Ageing: A Right or a Duty?

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

Active Ageing: A Right or a Duty?

Article excerpt

The subject is not only the one who says I, but also the one who is aware of his right to say I. (Touraine, 2005, p. 114)

The social construction of the population's ageing problem has revealed governments' economic and social difficulties (exacerbated by the current crisis) in making decisions to deal with the need for more services and social sup- port for the elderly. But as Rottier andjackson argue, the ageing population 'is an institutional problem and its solution will not be found in individual responses, especially those aimed only at the elderly' (Rottier & Jackson, 2003, p. 170).

Current political responses have only put the pressure back on the elderly and their fami- lies and all action dealing with ageing has been aimed at a change in lifestyles (focus on indi- vidual responsibility) that fosters social cohe- sion (successful ageing), social productivity (productive ageing) and health (healthy ageing) (Asquith, 2009).

These assumptions, which are clearly based on economic reasons, ignore or seem to ignore that gains in health are always generational and are never achieved with changes made in a per- son's latter years. As Asquith (2009) says, this means that the whole discourse on active ageing is aimed not at today's elderly but today's new- born generations.

The term active ageing (which can be given other political names, such as successful, pro- ductive or healthy ageing) emerged and has been imposed on political and health language, in spite of a shortage of research sustaining its effectiveness as a programme capable of gener- ating social change (Peel, Bartlett, & McClure, 2004).

The focus on activity is closely intertwined with our social and cultural representations of ageing. Minichiello, Somerville, McConaghy, McParlane, and Scott (2005) argue that dis- courses on ageing influence not only what peo- ple think about their own ageing processes, but also the way in which governments and com- munities implement and sustain unequal power relationships.

A critical analysis of the way in which ageing is represented in the media is decisive in under- standing how and why the active ageing dis- course has been avidly adopted by governments, in spite of the lack of proof of its effectiveness. In the absence of sustained, critical research, gov- ernments have built their approaches to the age- ing population on the basis of what has become the active ageing trilogy: healthy, productive and successful ageing (Asquith, 2009).

As with many aspects of ageing policies, this approach is based on health promotion mod- els designed by the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (World Health Organisation, 1986) and the Jakarta Declaration on Leading Health Promotion into the 21st Century (World Health Organisation, 1997). By adopting these models, political discourse on active ageing requires peo- ple who are responsible for their own lifestyles, communities that support individual choices and governments that provide the facilities that peo- ple and communities need to implement these choices.

As Asquith (2009) says, although this approach offers the elderly and communities more inde- pendence in their choices and hopes for the future, it is no more than an unattainable ideal. Not because they are unable to make decisions about their ageing process, but because they do not have the necessary resources to implement these choices.

This article questions and conducts a socio- logical analysis of the issue of active ageing that has dominated contemporary neoliberal gov- ernment agendas as a problem of future unsus- tainability of social security systems based on a discourse dominated by individual accountabil- ity and culpability of the elderly.

From old to senior: A recent path

The ageing population is a recent phenom- enon in the history of humanity and necessar- ily requires an analysis of its cultural, political and economic aspects and the values, prejudices and symbolic systems that socially contextual- ise it. …

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