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Introducing ageing
Introducing ageing

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6 Reflecting on the Third and Fourth Ages

In this final activity, you will draw together what you have learned about the Third and Fourth Ages and draw your own conclusions about the advantages and disadvantages of using these concepts to think about later life.

Activity 9 Applying the ideas

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

Think about someone you knew reasonably well who has grown older and then died, perhaps a member of your extended family, or a colleague. Choose someone whose last years and death you do not mind thinking about – if you do not want to think about someone you knew personally, you could pick a character from a book or a film or a historical figure.

How does what happened to them map on to Laslett’s theory of the Third and Fourth Ages? Is it helpful for understanding their life or is it not very helpful? Write a short summary of about 250 words describing first the person and what happened to them and then what you think about whether Laslett’s ideas are helpful in explaining their life.

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One person wrote:

I thought about my great-aunt who died a few years ago in her late 80s. Until she was 77 she had a very active kind of old age, even though she had been physically disabled all of her life. Her activities were mostly centred around her church – she ran the Mothers’ Union group, played the organ most weeks, organised a handbell ringing group and was a churchwarden. She also did lots of gardening, ran errands for a younger but frailer friend, and looked after my grandmother when she developed dementia. When she was 77, she had a series of heart attacks and subsequently experienced a lot of health problems that left her effectively bedbound. After a few years of living at home with home carers visiting several times a day, she went into a residential care home where she lived for seven years before she died.

The theory of the Third and Fourth Ages is quite helpful in understanding the disjunction between her life before and after the heart attacks. Beforehand she was contributing to society very significantly and afterwards this was much less the case. She got very depressed in this period and often talked about being a burden, so she certainly felt that she was not contributing to society. However, even before the heart attacks she didn’t experience very good health and she had been disabled all her life, so it wasn’t quite as simple as a transition from good health to poor health. And I don’t think she found her Third Age life fulfilling all the time, especially not when she was caring for my grandmother with dementia which was very difficult for her.