Fear of aging is actually a fear of the unknown

Fear of aging is actually a fear of the unknown

For the first time in human history, aging has become a given. In contrast to the past, when longevity was mainly reserved for the elite, around 79% of women and 70% of men worldwide live to age 65 or older.

Despite rising life expectancy, many people in the West still view aging as inconvenient and even scary. Science is now showing that fear of aging may actually be a fear of the unknown.

Society places great emphasis on youth and competence, which can lead to a fear of becoming weak and unwanted. Ubiquitous advertisements for anti-aging products reinforce the idea that aging is inherently unattractive, thus increasing our anxiety.

Some people even develop gyrascophobia, which is a pathological fear of aging. This leads to irrational thoughts and behaviors, such as focusing on health, illness, and mortality and hiding the signs of aging as much as possible.

Many people, especially wealthy people, try to prevent aging. For example, Brian Johnson, a 45-year-old American businessman, spends millions of dollars a year to reach the age of eighteen.

While the desire to reverse aging is not a new phenomenon, recent developments in biomedicine have brought us closer to this goal. Researchers suggest that we can repair old and damaged tissue and slow or even reverse aging by reprogramming DNA. However, these new possibilities can reinforce the fear of aging.

From unproductive to the lowest level

We haven't always been afraid of aging. In the past, old age meant high status within society. For example, in medieval China and Europe, elders were valued for their wisdom and experience. Younger generations often turn to them for advice.

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This respectful attitude changed in the eighteenth century with the Industrial Revolution in the West. Since then, older people have been viewed as unproductive and excluded from society. Anyone too old to work or suffering from an incurable condition was seen as some kind of “evil in need of help.”

At the beginning of the twentieth century, dealing with the elderly changed. Aging has become a major topic in the social welfare community around the world with the introduction of pension systems. As demand for Social Security and health care increased, journalists began to portray the elderly as a burden on society.

This is why older people want to stay healthy for as long as possible and limit the burden of care on younger family members as much as possible. As a result, they often end up in nursing homes, where they remain hidden from younger generations. This separate way of life contributes to the fear of aging and increases generational conflicts.

Today we live mainly in nuclear families rather than in traditional societies with mixed generations. In addition, many young people cannot live near their older relatives due to high house prices. As a result, young people have less understanding of the experiences of older people. In addition, older people are often portrayed in the media as conservative and privileged, giving younger generations a negative image of the older generation.

Mixed housing

According to academics, we need to create systems of interaction between the elderly and younger generations in everyday environments to reduce generational conflict and reduce the fear of aging. In 2016, three British studies showed that good direct intergenerational contact can improve young people's attitudes towards older people, especially if this contact continues over time.

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Intergenerational activities are therefore organized all over the world, such as mixed housing, community choirs, and volunteer projects in which older people read in day care centers. Studies show that these activities can not only improve the well-being of older people, but can also help young people to appreciate aging as a valuable and satisfying stage in life and thus get rid of their fear of aging.

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