Society for Medical Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
As social scientists point out, decline has become at least partially excluded from dominant western narratives of active ageing. Utilising an anthropological reflection on cognitive decline this presentation discusses how recent reconfigurations of “third age” identity—an identity valuing ideals of continuous activity, independence and productivity in later life—in contemporary ageing societies facilitate the othering of people with dementia. My analysis draws on ethnographic material conducted among developers and users of brain training technologies, and people with dementia in Spain, the United Kingdom and a European NGO in 2018. This paper provides detailed accounts of people’s expectations, existential concerns, and hopes and fears around ageing and decline. By establishing connections between these fragmented lifeworlds and experiences, I will present how the idea that we can train the brain has expanded regimes of active ageing and associated discourses of prevention into areas of cognition. I will also discuss how cognitive decline, when unacknowledged in active ageing, can become an absent presence leading to frustration or guilt. By connecting these embodied feelings with the experiences of people with dementia, I will question the normativity associated with third age identity as an ideal, and how it subtly excludes individuals who do not fit into its narrative of independence and agency. Finally, this presentation will be an opportunity to discuss how an anthropology of (cognitive) decline can become an important means of addressing exclusion in later life within the current climate of global population ageing.