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The freedom of growing older

Last Updated at April 5th 2022
It is not uncommon for people to view age and ageing as having limitations, whether it is socially, physically or mentally.

Key points:

  • Improvements in public health and early childhood have had a big improvement on a person's lifespan and living well
  • You should make sure not to hold off on doing things you want to do when you are over 65
  • A lot of older people find their later years very freeing from social norms
Older couple on a big hike
​Many older people find they have more freedom during their later years. Freedom from responsibilities like work and mortgages. [Source: Shutterstock]

However, some people find their older age quite freeing, as they care less and less about what is "expected" and live their lives how they choose.

Professor Joseph Ibrahim, Head of the Health Law and Ageing Research Unit at Victoria's Monash University says it is a lot easier to live in the now when you are older.

He encourages people to make the most of their lives and put an effort into actively living life to the fullest during their later years.

Ageing improvements

While technology and modern medicine have had an impact on how we age and live, it isn't the only credit to why people are living longer.

"Most of the improvement of our lifespan is due to changes that we made in public health and early childhood," explains Professor Ibrahim.

"So the good nutrition, immunisation, clean water, and school and education for young people - the under 5s and then the under 20s - is what gives people the best chance of living longer."

A reduction in mortality from cigarette smoking and injuries, like road crashes, has also had an improvement on our lifespan.

When it comes to medicine and technology, Professor Ibrahim says people can have a bleak outlook on medication and all the things that can go wrong, but when it comes to technology it is considered something that will "reboot you much like iron man".

"You get two extremes and the truth is always somewhere in the middle," he says.

He adds that while modern medicine has reduced the pain you have for illnesses, like arthritis, and can increase your independence, medication and technology does not make you 20 again, but it can assist you to live better as a 70 or 80 year old.

Measuring a good life

When people talk about ageing and older people, the general perception is that those people have lived a full life. Professor Ibrahim says it depends on how you measure a 'good' life.

Everyone has birthdays which is why we count the years. But if you count your life in the experiences you have, whether positive or negative, that is a truer indication of whether you really "lived your life".

"If someone has been through significant life experiences - you could get married and divorced, a death in the family - they would have accrued a lot more experience about what life is like and seen the world in different ways to someone who hasn't done any of that," says Professor Ibrahim.

"You can have a really good quality of life in a very shorter span than if you lived a longer time and did less."

Professor Ibrahim gave the example of Shane Warne who recently passed, saying, "I could live three lifetimes and not have the experiences that Shane Warne had in his 50 years… You would say he had lived a full life, so what is it we are after in terms of getting old? [It] doesn't mean you have lived a full life."

Don't let your age hold you back

Professor Ibrahim says the most disappointing thing he sees are people waiting for the perfect time, like once they are retired, to do something big in their lives.

For instance, doing nothing while working, saving up your money, retiring at 70, and then planning to do the big trip around Australia. But what happens if you have a massive stroke or dementia starts developing?

Professor Ibrahim says that a person's life can be turned upside down.

"I think it is easier to live in the now when you're older. There is not much point in deferring what you want to do. …There are certain changes that occur when you get older, so waiting to do something generally isn't a good idea," says Professor Ibrahim.

"The way to slow down your loss of independence is remaining active, so by doing as much as you can. You want to be pushing the limits on what you do so you remain physically and cognitively active."

Freedom comes with ageing

Many older people find they have more freedom during their later years.

Freedom from responsibilities like work, mortgages and children. Freedom from societal norms and expectations.

Professor Ibrahim says he finds a lot of older women are happier in their old age because they don't have to worry about fulfilling whatever the social norm was for women in the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s. In their 80s or 90s, they are free to be who they really wanted to be.

"[Ageing], you get a certain degree of freedom from society and… maybe freedom from expectations which weigh much much heavily on the 35-50 year olds - who are worried about is this house big enough? Can I afford the mortgage? What will I do with my career?", says Professor Ibrahim.

"They worry about that aspect and they are physically capable and healthy. In a sense, it flips around the other way when you are 80 or 90. You are free of all those things that weigh you down in life and you physically can't do it."

What are you looking forward to in your old age? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

What age is considered old?
Top health concerns for older people
Keeping healthy physically in your old age

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