Suffering: The darker side of ageing

Much of the literature on ageing is presaged upon a model of advocacy that seeks to combat what is seen as the negative stereotyping of old age and old people. One consequence is that ageing studies has difficulty in confronting the darker side of ageing except in so far as age associated disability and distress can be attributed to extrinsic disadvantage, such as low income, poor housing and inadequate services. The pain and suffering associated with age itself tend to be neglected as subject experiences. This paper seeks to shed some light on these topics, considered under the general heading of ‘suffering’. Suffering can be viewed from the perspective of moral philosophy of medicine and of the social sciences. Serving as a witness to suffering has been proposed as the basis for an ethics of human dignity and as a call upon the collective moral agency of the community. Whether or not one accepts such an ethical viewpoint, it seems important for students of ageing to acknowledge document and explore the place of suffering in later life.

– Chris Gilleard

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