Old Age is a New Stage

2 October 2017

The Finnish writer Tove Jansson visited St. Petersburg, Florida during the 1970s. While walking the streets her attention was drawn to the cozy houses burrowed amidst the city’s greenery. The writer thought it was the ideal place for vacationing and spending one’s old age. Sometime later, Jansson wrote a book about the experience of old age titled Sun City.
Today, in the age of the beauty industry, there is a frequent discussion regarding the extension of youth. For many people old age is associated with weakness, physical pain, illness, and loneliness. Yet for some others, this is a negative stereotype that artificially separates those of an older age from the realm of young people.
In the field of gerontology, a large body of research has proven that negative predispositions linked to old age adversely affect a person’s health and hasten the physical process of ageing.
Additionally, psychologists consider attempts to flee from old age and blind oneself to inner and outer changes to be harmful.
For more than 20 years, Dr. Bill Thomas, an innovator, and founder of www.changingaging.org, has been trying to change the paradigm of old age and improve quality of life for elderly people.
Dr. Thomas says that some popular clichés such as “you don't look your age” or “you look like a 22-year-old” should not be taken as compliments at all. These phrases actually express the fear established in our cultures toward maturity and old age.
Thomas created the project www.drbillthomas.org whereby he travels to various cities and puts on 80-minute performances to convey the breakthroughs of neurology in simple terms. In order to describe how a person’s brain function changes as their age advances, Thomas uses different types of games, plays the guitar, reads excerpts from scientific works to the accompaniment of music, and acquaints the audience with the relevant sociological analysis.
As to how a person perceives their age, on the one hand it is dependent on their individual attitude and life philosophy. On the other hand, however, it is dependent on the extant social, political, and economic situation in their specific society.
According to projections of the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), the portion of the population of Georgia 65+years was 14% in 2015 and will increase to 20.6 by 2035.
Within the conditions established by prudent policies, focused on three priority areas - older persons and development; advancing health and well-being into old age; and ensuring enabling and supportive environments, it will be possible to handle the issue of Ageing in the 21st century. One of the main objectives in this case is to reorient the ways in which societies perceive, interact with and care for their older citizens. The quality of life of older persons can be improved through measures envisaged in the policy approach of active ageing.
What does active ageing mean? According to Lela Bakradze, Assistant Representative at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Georgia Country Office, the active ageing is a policy approach, that supports growing older in good health and as a full member of society, feeling more fulfilled in jobs and in social engagements, more independent in the daily lives and more engaged as citizens. This can only be achieved if state policy is applied at the national, local, and community level, and should involve policy measures such as increasing financial security, promoting age-friendly infrastructures and weaving these ideas into the social fabric of the society. Interventions in the Health system, such as popularizing healthy life-style and prevention of cardiovascular and other non-communicable diseases, as well as making health system more suitable for the elderly - are essential to support active ageing approach.
In 2015, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) developed a mainstream guide for the issue of Ageing in collaboration with the Georgian government and with the support of the UNFPA Georgia Country Office. It was followed by development of the concept for a state policy to address Ageing, which was adopted through a Resolution of the Georgian Parliament on May 27, 2016.
According to the concept, one of the priority interventions is to increase the employability of older workers through professional training, life-long education and adaptions of working conditions. As statistical data shows, more than 40% of the population aged 65 years and above are economically active. A majority of these people live in rural areas, with 84 % of people belonging to this population sub-group are being self-employed and some of them working as subsistence farmers. The measures shall be applied to increase involvement of the economically active elderly population in the productive agriculture, broadly speaking - in productive economy.” Lela Bakradze notes.
Having traveled in other countries as well as within Georgia, we have noted that the practice of the older generation vacationing while attired in athletic wear and sporting backpacks is gaining new currency. Active vacationing at retirement age is generally considered a luxury in Georgia and is only accessible to a narrow social strata. Thus, increasing financial security and encouraging the individual savings for a longer and healthier life is necessary. For this, pension reform is needed.
Another necessary component of an active ageing policy is the establishment of a physical and psycho-social environment adapted to age, as well as maintaining intergenerational solidarity. There are currently very few appropriate spaces for the socialization of older people in Georgia – such as elderly clubs and similar venues.“ There are very few initiatives helping people in this respect”, Bakradze remarks.
Indigo spoke with people who don't recognize age as something that inevitably creates hindrance and growing weakness. These are people who view the passage of time as an opportunity for developing, discovering new interests, and observing life.

Reproductologist Jenaro Kristesashvili. Photo: Dina Oganova / UNFPA Georgia

Jenaro Kristesashvili
Reproductologist
“I am a Reproductologist by profession. It is a complex specialty that includes gynecology, endocrinology, genetics, immunology, and some surgery.
In the beginning, I began studying genetics. Today, reproductive genetics is the foundation of everything and it turned out that I have predominance in this respect. Apart from this, I use to be a consultant for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) working on issues of adolescent sexual and reproductive health and education. I am a professor at the Obstetrics-Gynecology Department of the Faculty of Medicine at the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University and I supervise doctoral students as well.
It's funny, but nobody was a doctor in my family. Before I wanted to be a musician, but then I thought that it’s better to be the best in a specific realm than be an average musician. Thus, I found myself in medicine.
By the way, people sometimes don't believe my age; People are surprised that I’m still so active. But I don't consider myself to be elderly. I'm so active that many young people can't compete with me. Walking slowly is impossible for me. Once we had a situation when me and my friends were going by train from Budapest to Vienna and we had to run in order not to miss the train. I ran so that none of my accompanies could catch up with me.
I never run out of things to do. I never refuse whenever I’m offered to do something. I travel frequently, attend on various conferences and congresses – I'm invited everywhere.
The most important thing I usually say to young people is “You must become needed”.
I'm a positive person. I don't complain. I love interactions with young people.
Being alone is probably really difficult. I live with my son and daughter-in-law and work, thus I've never felt myself alone.”

Ambassador Gela Charkviani. Photo: Dina Oganova / UNFPA Georgia

Gela Charkviani
Diplomat, Writer, Musician, Documentary Prose Writer, Nana's Grandfather

“I don't believe that you receive inspiration from someone or something. If you want to do something, you must work and the inspiration comes on its own.
Clearly, this changes with age. A person has more motivation to work when they're younger as the ambition, a desire for recognition, and a group of people whose feedback/ideas are important or interesting for you, is greater.
At my age, this group has got smaller because the majority of them have passed away and left this world.  There are less people for whom I would like to strive or do something, therefore, there is less motivation.
Yet there are other stimuli: I've been doing something all throughout my life, but from other point of view, I've done far more in recent years. I've published five books in the past five years. Three of them are bestsellers – this is worth mentioning.
Some tragedies of my life did this to me. Working hard was an alternative to committing a suicide. When my son Irakli passed away, I still had my beloved spouse Nana. We were together in mourning and, somehow, I was able to bear it.
But then, after my wife Nana, It was really difficult to survive in solitude. That’s why I worked every day. I wrote music, then I began writing books. I worked nine hours a day, but it is impossible to write more than a page and a half when you write in simple language. It is difficult to write simply. The work was painstaking and I received a back-pain as a result.
I like the results, those are great. Everyone tells me that the book is easy to read.
Soon after Irakli passed away, I left for London to become a Georgian Ambassador to UK. I had to face a new environment, new challenges and new people and indeed important work that I had to do.
I took my granddaughter later on, when Nana turned five and it was already possible to take her to pre-school. In England, I used to always take Nana to school and bring her back home by myself, despite the fact that I was able to send her off with a driver, I never did this. Nana had been orphaned, she had no father and I wanted her to feel that she had a grandfather besides her as a father figure.
The past life for me now is illusory and everyone and everything is chimera. I view life like this as well: I frequently doubt it is a reality.”

Botanist Lamara Asieshvili. Photo: Dina Oganova / UNFPA Georgia

Lamara Asieshvili
Curator of Rare Caucasian Plants Sector at the Tbilisi Botanical Garden
“It will seem funny to you, but I've been working at the Tbilisi Botanical Garden since July 19, 1956. I'm a botanist. Last year the director, Tamaz Darchidze and the whole collective held a celebration in honor of my work.
How many years of work? That is a secret – I can't tell you.
My department at the botanical garden works on rare plants from Georgia and the Caucasus. We research the ecology and biology of the plants. As you are aware, saving rare and endangered plants from extinction is a worldwide problem.
We learn how to cultivate and save the species and then we inform everyone about what we’ve learned. University and secondary school students, and foreign guests are all impressed seeing the sort of plants that are rare even in the wild.
You have to nurture a plant. Tbilisi climate conditions are complicated: The botanical garden is located at 450 meters above sea level. The difficulty of caring for the plants is based upon the fact that a plant taken from an alpine zone or from high elevation has difficulty in adapting to these conditions.
We must study the ecology of each species, or as they say, ‘the plant's language’. It must be understood and they also understand us.
When a doctor enters a ward, he asks: ‘How is my patient today? Has her condition improved or not?’
My work is similar:  We observe more than 700 plants annually at the Tbilisi Botanical Garden. A majority of them have been entered in the Red Book of rare or endangered species.
My everyday task involves the phenology of my plant collection – numbering them, daily observations, watching them all throughout the season, protecting and cultivating them. Has vegetative growth started? Blooming? At what stage is the seed-bearing period? Have the seeds ripened? When they are ripe, you must collect them.
This entire cycle of events takes place beginning from early spring and ending in the beginning of winter, with no stoppage in between. There is a high demand on the Caucasian and Georgian endemic varieties. The collected seeds are then sent to various botanical gardens worldwide and to biological-scientific institutions.”

Ice cream entrepreneur Dare Ekvtimishvili. Photo: Dina Oganova / UNFPA Georgia

Dare Ekvtimishvili
Product Manager at “Luca Polare”
“It wasn't easy, but a risk was needed. We began this business in 2008. My children and son-in-law helped me.

We wanted to have a family business and at the same time do something different. A study of the market was conducted, we developed further some Italian recipes, and even made our first ice cream. There was a humble assortment in the beginning. On the other hand, we had a myriad of colors.

I did a number of things simultaneously, including making ice cream, delivering products, At the same time I was a driver, a warehouse manager, and I hired employees at work.

Even now we have to work a lot. I get up early, go to bed late. It's a great relief to have slept for five hours. But I like all of this. I can't even imagine how I can stop.

I once overheard on a bus how the young people were praising our ice cream shop.  At such times I usually feel that I give people happiness and I'm happy because of that.

I'm an engineer and chemist by profession. Previously, I taught chemistry at a technical college. I even worked at a chemistry laboratory, then the chaos of the 1990s began.

If I wasn't in this business, I would probably work with children, at boarding schools. I want adolescents to have an environment where they will have freedom and no prohibitions and they can feel beloved.

Age offers many positive things, especially in our culture. There are prohibitions, taboos in young age, with boundaries being created for you. I grew up on the periphery and understand all of this well. You mature and you become more independent, you are ready to take some bold steps.”

The original version of this article was written by Eka Chitanava and Tsira Gvasalia, with photographs by Dina Oganova, and published in Indigo Magazine’s September 2017 issue. It was prepared with the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Georgia Country Office.