Birgitta Elwing, 80: “There is also a great joy in ageing”

Name: Birgitta Elwing.
Age: Born in 1934
Profession: Dietician and public health expert.
Best thing about getting older: The love of family and friends gets deeper. My husband and I care more for each other, which is a really nice thing. The same goes for the children.
Worst thing about getting older: Friends die, or disappear into a fog, and your own body doesn’t work as well as it used to.

Birgitta Elwing. Photo: Joel Nilsson och Henric Lindsten

“I can hardly believe that I am 80 years old now. My husband and I keep active with exercise, social interaction and good food. We also have an active social commitment as custodians for unaccompanied refugee children. Right now I am the custodian of a young person from Syria, and another one from Afghanistan; it feels meaningful.

I started working with public health before that term even existed. I became a dietician in 1979 after many years as a home economics teacher. I worked with preventative measures, for example in preschools and parent groups, but back then there were no studies to show that this was effective in the long term.

For a while, I provided advice to elderly people when they were released from hospital. We dealt with things like lifestyle and about removing carpets that they might trip on. I didn’t understand what it was like growing older back then. You want to keep living your life the way you always have. I know that now.

There is a lot of sadness in getting older. We have more to look back on than to look forward to. It’s hard when your body stops working as it should, when you can’t see or hear as well as before. And you often have pain in various parts of your body, sometimes all over. Those days, there’s not much you can do.

But there is also a great joy in ageing. I can be myself, and I find great pleasure in being with other people, both old and young. It’s a nice feeling to be healthy and old, especially if you consider the alternatives.”

As told to Fredrik Hedlund. First published in the magazine Medical Science 2015.

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