Ageing Well: Well-being, Meaning and Human Dignity
The objective of the ‘Ageing Well’ project is to research a theme that is becoming more important for individuals and societies from the (practically oriented) viewpoints of humanism, meanings of life and humanization.
The term ‘ageing well’ refers to the ways in which people labelled ‘elderly’ by society, because of their age, can continue to organize and lead their lives. This is not prescribed by nature, but may be viewed as an existential, socially located process that can be the subject of discussion and reflection, with a view to a meaningful and dignified life course. Sources that may be tapped include humanist traditions, which through their use may also be enriched with new themes and perspectives.
The demand for ageing ‘well’ is of particular interest because of the very rapid recent increase in life expectancy in ‘Western’ countries, with many people living relatively long lives as ‘elderly people’, while little thought has been given to optimum forms of this life. Nonetheless, there is now widespread discourse about the foreseeable budgetary consequences of these trends (e.g. pensions and healthcare), in which a link is made between ‘elderly people’ and other age-defined population groups.
Substantial research is also being performed into the biological and pathological processes concerned withsenescence. The discourses about ‘elderly people’ and ‘senescence’ touch on important conditions for ageing well. Conversely, considerations concerned with ‘ageing well’ should also have an impact on ideas about ‘senescence’ and the social structure of the life course. A conspicuous aspect of the demand for ‘ageing well’ is that it arises immediately and inevitably when people are confronted with the question of how to live or go on living.
The challenge is to demonstrate that methodological reflection and research that is performed with proper scientific distance can be relevant to the prescientific ‘life world’, and then to demonstrate that answers to the question of ageing well should direct the discourses about elderly people, senescence and care for the elderly.
The stated discourses are relevant on various levels: micro (individuals and their primary relationships); meso (organizations and institutions); and macro (organization of the life course and the related political and public debate). Questions of substantial practical importance are concerned with the dominance of medicalizing forms of the ageing discourse in the organization of institutions for care for the elderly, and about how to develop alternatives that do greater justice to the ‘life world’ aspect of these institutions, so that they too can meet the demand for ageing well satisfactorily.
Various aspects of ageing well therefore require research. This is a field in which humanistics touches on life sciences in addition to social sciences and the humanities. The University of Humanistic Studies’ expertise in the fields of meanings of life (existential questions) and humanization (critical gerontology) puts it in an excellent position to make ‘ageing well’ a unique research priority.