Shifting conversations about ageing

Dr Johan Myburg

Fifty years ago, my grandfather turned 80.  I was a kid at the time, but I can vividly remember the stature of my grandfather, solemnly seated in a big chair and us, gathered in the room speaking in hushed voices – out of respect for his old age. Indeed, he came across as an old man. With all his faculties more or less intact, he came across as weary, or as he would refer to himself, der dagen sat. Looking now at the recent Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition with an 80-year-old Martha Stewart on the front cover, I doubt my grandfather would have considered posing for a magazine. Let alone the front cover.

In the last fifty years perceptions about ageing, growing old, and about being old, have shifted. Yet, at the same time some perceptions have become more entrenched – like the stereotype that older people are alike. The notion that everyone in a retirement home is the same age – old – even though residents can span four decades, the notion that everybody over 65 thinks in the same way and does the same things.

We live in a culture that drowns out all but the negatives about growing old; a culture where social and economic forces frame aging as a problem, so they can sell us remedies to “fix” or “stop” or “cure” it. Ageing is a natural, lifelong, profoundly enriching process.

“The mind and body are the same age,” argues Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.

“Framing it this way implicitly equates old with bad and young with good when there are good and bad things about every age. Sorry, but aspirations to stay young or young at heart are based on age denial, which is the foundation of ageism.”

“In an ageist culture, we use young as a placeholder for positive emotions (e.g., energetic, attractive, on trend),” she says.

“But these feelings can crop up at any stage of life – they’re age-independent.”

How any two people age manifests differently because many factors influence the process. Our DNA, the type of work we do and for how long, the stress and trauma we suffer and the ability to rebound, a solid support system – in addition to diet and exercise – and access to healthcare, are all factors that influence ageing.

In a time when society has grown far less tolerant of sexism and racism, ageist attitudes and behaviours still get a pass. I suppose you are familiar with two ads recently aired on TV – both by financial institutions to sell their services and products –portraying older people as past their sell by date. The message one gets from these advertisements would be to enjoy life now before you become old and incompetent. So much has shifted in how we look at gender. Gender used to be viewed as a rigid binary, male or female, but we now understand that it’s far more fluid. If gender can be conceived of this way, why on earth not age, which is inherently, obviously, a continuum? Why not shake off our fear of being on the “wrong” side of some imaginary old/young divide and embrace a more flexible, friendly, and far more rational view of age?

In planning “Shifting Conversations about Ageing”, an informal meeting of role-players in the field of ageing, all from diverse backgrounds and with different approaches and strategies, and all with a deep knowledge of the terrain, the Mind Moves Institute opted for a conversation as opposed to a seminar with formal presentations. The aim was to talk, to deliberate, to voice the unsaid, to find new ways of thinking about the topic we all have at heart, and possibly, to bring about shifts in our thinking about ageing.

The conversations were concluded with the documentary film Your Hundred Year Life, made by Theo Kocken, a film that was shown last year to an invited audience at an event hosted by the NWU Optentia Research Unit and Corporate Relations & Marketing in Johannesburg.

“Getting older is what we do,” argues Kocken in the film, Your Hundred Year Life.

“How we get older is always up for grabs. We need to look at the whole idea with fresh eyes, find new ways of working, new ways of living, and pay more attention to our future selves. Think about how we’ll survive financially, live socially, and stay physically healthy and mentally fit. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but it’s time to question old-fashioned assumptions about the way humans work and what we’re capable of. As we get older, interacting with others, embracing new challenges, finding fresh purpose – these will be key to helping millions to live an active, fulfilling, and happy hundred-year life.”

  1. Dr Johan Myburg – Conversation facilitator and co-editor of Plus50 magazine
  2. Prof Jaco Hoffman – NWU
  3. Dr Kirti Ranchod – Brain Health
  4. Dr Hannetjie Van Zyl-Edeling – Over the hill moon
  5. Femada Shaman – TAFTA
  6. Mariette Snyman – Calm, Clear & Helpful podcast series
  7. Suzette Serfontein – Rewire to Retire
  8. Rudi de Jager – Vision casting
  9. Helena Minnie – La Vie Care
  10. Dr Melodie de Jager – Mind Moves Institute


We invite you to follow our SHIFTING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT AGEING on:

Senior Mind Moves FB page:

Rewire to Retire website:

Mariette Snyman: