'I am not that old': Inter-personal experiences of thriving and threats at a senior centre

  • Lund A
  • Engelsrud G
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Abstract

The high cultural valuation of youthfulness and fitness in the mass media and more generally in western consumer society is the contextual frame for this study. It examines older people's attitudes towards their own ageing and towards people who are older or frailer than themselves. Participant observation was conducted of the attitudes, actions and interactions of the users of a senior centre in Norway. The users held two sets of attitudes that led to quite different activities and actions at the centre. On the one hand, they saw the centre as helping them ‘thrive’, which was associated with involvement in the community and participation in the structured daily activities to promote the senses of belonging and being useful. On the other hand, some perceived the centre and particularly the other users as ‘threats’ – as reminding them that they were getting old and increasingly vulnerable to sickness and disability. To some, the centre was for old people with disabilities, and they used subtle strategies to distance themselves from this group. Some users' attitudes and behaviour were in tension: they wished to participate in the valued activities but also to distance themselves from frailer users, while not denying their own ageing. The distancing strategies and behaviour amounted to age discrimination in interpersonal relations and interactions at the centre. This behaviour accepts rather than challenges the cultural valuation of youthfulness and the negative representation of old age.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Ageism
  • Consumer culture
  • Notion of ageing
  • Seniors' experiences
  • Youth orientation

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Authors

  • Anne Lund

  • Gunn Engelsrud

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