The demographic changes caused by the significant rise in human longevity have come to be a focus of concern amongst Western governments in relation to responding to the care needs of an ageing population. Images of infirmity, frailty, dependency and cognitive deterioration strongly influence negative cultural prescriptions associated with ageing and we are told that more than anything else ‘people fear both living and dying with advanced dementia’ (Downs, 2011). Because women on average live longer than men, they are more likely to be diagnosed with some form of dementia and are also more likely than men to be involved in caring for a partner or other family member with the condition (Lips, 2014). In the US, two thirds of those caring for dementia sufferers are women (Coston and Kimmel, 2013).
Ageing is complex and not just biological with Segal (2013) reminding us that, whilst we think we age by nature, we are also aged by culture that in Western societies has an entrenched prejudice against ageing and old age. The growing levels of dementia and its characterisation as a ‘living death’ contribute to the perception that ‘ageing is a problem’.
But and as Segal (2013) points out, though the incidence of dementia will accelerate in the oldest old age group, it will still not predominate. This is not the picture often presented in media discourses on ageing.