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Long life, including particularly, the factors which might promote it, is of perennial interest to human beings, but the circumstances of very old people less so. Whilst there is much discussion about ageing in today's society, there is less willingness to examine the assumptions which underpin our attitudes towards old age. These assumptions are based on a variety of contradictory positive and negative sentiments which coalesce into stereotypes. The very old represent the fastest growing section of the population of most Western societies. Reactions by public and politicians alike are often marked by alarm and dismay. It is assumed that the hallmark of very old age is decrepitude, and that, consequently, demands on services will be unmanageable. The very old are thus portrayed as a burden to themselves and others. In Life After Ninety Michael Bury and Anthea Holme have surveyed and interviewed just under 200 individuals, living at home and in communal establishments, which has enabled them to present a unique picture of the health, quality of life, and social circumstances of the very old.
Longevity and the factors which promote it are also discussed, and throughout the book the concept of the life course' is employed, bringing together the biographical experiences of individuals, and the changing historical circumstances of the twentieth century, through which they have lived. Though poor health and unhappiness do mar the lives of some individuals and their carers, the book also shows that a good quality of life is often possible in very old age, and that life after ninety can involve both contentment and dignity.