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This paper summarises the knowledge about transition from the third age to what is called the fourth age. The study understands ageing as an embodied process and explores the meanings that are attached to the body in the narratives of older persons who have acquired impairment in later life and are receiving care. Because the onset of impairment and infirmity marks a point of transition, the study considers the bodily aspects of the ageing process as key elements, despite this being highly problematic in current social gerontology. The authors call for a complex approach to understanding the meanings of the body in the transitions into old age and drawing on their own study based on three repeated interviews with ten older adults conducted over the course of one year (8 women, mean age = 83.8 years), they explore the meanings that are attached to the body in the context of receiving care. Their analysis of the personal accounts and narratives of everyday activities from the participants in their study revealed that embodiment in action is the main topic through which participants experienced their everydayness. The meanings of embodiment in action are shaped and reconstructed on three dimensions that capture important processes of embodiment in action: the sensing of the body (the Body as an Organiser of Activities), anticipation of the body (the Body as an Uncertain Companion), and the managing of the body (the Body as Work to Be Done). The findings offer insights into the processes of transitions in old age, in which the emotional, social, and behavioural aspects of embodiment in action, rather than age, play the key role. The study further highlights that the meanings of the body are complex, highly relevant, and should not be overlooked within the organisational practice of social and health care.
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The concept of the fourth age has until recently been an overlooked topic in social gerontology, which in past decades has focused more closely on the third age. This article provides an overview of commonly applied definitions of the fourth age. It focuses on concepts that do not view the fourth age as an unavoidable stage in life but rather as a stage in which the shared vulnerabilities and responsibilities for care that some older adults may experience need to be recognised. The article devotes a more in-depth discussion to the issue of agency in the fourth age, the possibilities for the existence of agency, and forms of agency. It challenges the idea that the fourth age is a stage in life without agency and argues that agency can be identified through its relational definitions. It also highlights the problems of understanding independence in the context of advanced old age. The article draws attention to the risk of greater polarisation in old age that lies in the positive value ascribed in current social gerontology to the dominant concept of the third age and in associating the negative stereotypes of old age with just the fourth age. The conclusion highlights the problems surrounding the possibility of active ageing in the fourth age.
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