For most of us, when we were younger, we couldn’t wait to grow up. Perhaps we yearned for the freedom that adulthood brings. Ironically, now that most of us have experienced ageing and adulthood, we might wish we could rewind time. We wish that we could go back to when we were younger when we had lesser worries.

Recently, a former CEO, Bryan Johnson, took his desire to be young again to great measures and invested millions to reverse his ageing process. His anti-ageing regime included a strict caloric diet, eating his dinner by 11am, and consuming 111 supplements a day. At one point in time, Johnson even injected his son’s plasma into his body in the world’s first ‘multi-generational blood transfusion’ [1]. As shocking as this may sound, longevity procedures are not as uncommon as you think; Johnson is just one of the many who publicly shares his anti-ageing process on social media.  

Johnson claims that his endeavour is allegedly a scientific one to push the limits of the human body. However, it all seems rooted in the ideality of youthfulness and the sentimentality he may have for the past. It seems as though it may not be enough for Johnson, or even others who engage in longevity procedures, to slow down the ageing process but to also reverse it. In this newsletter, we will be walking through the all-too-common fear of growing old. We will first discuss the psychology behind reminiscing about the past, the reasons why we may be afraid of growing old and how we can minimise this fear. 

When we get nostalgic

Nostalgia describesa feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past.” [2]. Nostalgia may come to us intentionally or unintentionally, but it is widely agreed upon that nostalgia occurs as a result of retrieval cues. Retrieval cues in the external environment include sounds, smells, and sights of people and objects. For example, sometimes smelling the aroma of home-cooked food may remind us of our grandmother. Likewise, seeing a beautiful sunset may remind us of a moment we shared with a dear friend. 

The bittersweetness of past memories can sometimes dampen our mood. It can even cause more negative feelings than positive ones as we may wish to relive those memories. 

Looking back at our past is a rather natural human experience [3]. We have to often make decisions in our past amidst uncertainty and experience the major milestones we may experience. Such experiences include graduating, getting married, buying a new house, or breaking up with someone. It can be empowering to see how these decisions have brought us to where we are today. We may even develop a sense of gratitude for the events leading up to our present. In fact, nostalgia is said to be a “highly social emotion” as it connects us with others [4]. Perhaps it can bring comfort to those who fear what the future brings. Even though we were uncertain back then, we were able to live through the decisions that we have made. 

Reminiscence bump

The reminiscence bump is somewhat related to nostalgia as it refers to the tendency for adults over 40 who remember proportionally more autobiographical memories from their youth to early childhood vividly. It is one of the most robust findings in autobiographical memory research [5].

It can be argued that the reason why the reminiscence bump occurs is because our major milestones tend to occur at that age of young adulthood. These milestones are memorable because they are likely to be linked with high levels of emotion. Furthermore, we may remember events from our young adulthood because most of us are always recounting these memories in our conversations or in our thoughts [6]. 

Regardless of the cause for this reminiscence bump, it seems that most of us find significance in our past experiences and memories, whether positive or negative. It can even be implied that most of us tend to think fondly of our past, which can contribute to a fear of growing old. 

Why do we fear growing old?

When we reminisce about our past, we inevitably become aware of how time marches on despite how daunting we may find the uncertainty of the process to be. 

Culture surrounding ageing

Many cultures around the world often express compassion toward the elderly. However, the message that dominant culture sends, especially through the media, says something different. It may imply that being old often means losing attractiveness or the ability to do daily tasks efficiently [7], and needing to rely on others. 

​​In Singapore, we emphasise the importance of communitarianism and filial piety. This means that we have the tendency to redistribute our resources to those who need them more than us and make an effort to give back to society [8]. As such, the elderly may be perceived as “more vulnerable” and in need of more support and help. However, this may counterintuitively remove the autonomy of the elderly. 

Secondly, pay attention to the vocabulary that advertisers use to describe products. Skincare products and other products, ranging from food to supplements, may use words or phrases such as ‘youthful’, ‘anti-wrinkle’, ‘age renewal’, and ‘age defying’. These wordings may suggests that there is an undesirability in appearing or being old and appealing to the desire to be young.  

Indeed, cultivating healthy perspectives of ageing is important. Research done by Barnett & Adams (2018) concluded that a society that promotes ageism will see a similar correlation to ageing anxiety. That is, the more a culture shows discrimination toward the elderly, the more likely its people are going to be afraid of growing old [9]. 

A product of our grief

Grief is a complex experience coming after the loss of something or someone dear to us, or when there is an abrupt change in our life. When this happens, we may feel a momentary loss of control and instability. This can bring us anxiety due to the uncertainty of the future [10]. 

Perhaps our fear of ageing comes as a natural product of our grief. It may be the grief we feel when we observe how our loved ones age over time, or the unbearable grief of losing someone we love due to age. For some of us, we may also grieve when we see the pain that our loved ones had to go through, nearing the end of their lives. When we are made aware of this loss and suffering, it may subconsciously fuel our anxiety of growing old within ourselves. 

Losing our autonomy

Interestingly, death is not as commonly cited as a reason for a fear of ageing, compared to other reasons. According to this survey conducted online by Harris Poll, the majority of Americans worry about a decline in their physical ability, memory loss, running out of money, and chronic illness. Only 10% of the respondents cited the fear of death in relation to ageing, which is a proportionally low percentage [11]. Unfortunately, no such survey exists for the Asian context. 

However, some of us may resonate with the results collected by the Harris Poll. We might have concerns surrounding the loss of autonomy and control over our lives as we grow older. Ageing may even lead to a gradual decline in mobility and cognitive function. Moreover, it may mean a higher likelihood of chronic illnesses. It is still uncertain what we may experience as we age and knowing that these restrictions are far beyond our control can make us fear the day it comes. 

Overcoming our fear of ageing

Given those reasons, it is understandable to fear ageing. There are indeed forces beyond our control but how, then, can we make this realisation less scary? 

Ageing is a natural process for everyone

We should remind ourselves that we have begun our ageing process from the moment we are born. Ageing is a natural process experienced by everyone, not just reserved for adults or the elderly, but to all of us reading this article. In this sense, ageing is just another word for living. If we recognise that the people around us age together with us, and we are not alone in our ageing, it might become less intimidating. 

Things will change

When we think about the changes that come with ageing, we think about the negative changes – losing our mobility, or our cognitive abilities. However, positive changes can come with ageing too. This may include resilience and wisdom that comes from our much more extensive life experiences, a bigger family, and understanding of what matters to us. We might even develop the desire and ability to create stronger and more meaningful relationships with others [12]. 

Focusing on the present

Rather than impairing ourselves with the fear of ageing, we can focus more on living in the present and leave no regrets for our future selves. Accepting that we will grow old one day can be difficult, but if we spend our time preoccupied with negative perceptions about ageing, we would miss out on doing what is otherwise more important. For example, preparing for our retirement or being mindful of the present moment. 

All things age with time, and we humans would be most painfully aware of that fact. Therefore, rather than letting that fear grip us and spending the rest of our lives worrying, we can live the lives that we want to lead. Perhaps you can embark on the adventure that you’ve always wanted to, or tell a friend that you miss them dearly. Either way, we should take this opportunity to ensure that we make helpful decisions for us to be able to age elegantly. 


[1] Business Insider. (2023). Tech Exec Bryan Johnson Said He Used to Drink Alcohol for Breakfast. Retrieved August 8, 2023 from 

[2] Cambridge University Press. (n.d.). Nostalgia. In Cambridge dictionary. Retrieved August 8, 2023 from

[3] The Neuroscience of. (n.d). The Psychology of Nostalgia and The Continuity of Self. Retrieved August 8, 2023 from,the%20body%27s%20acute%20stress%20response

[4] American Psychological Association. (2019). Does nostalgia have a psychological purpose? With Krystine Batcho, PhD. Retrieved August 8, 2023 from ​​

[5] Koppel, J., & Rubin, D. C. (2016). Recent Advances in Understanding the Reminiscence Bump: The Importance of Cues in Guiding Recall from Autobiographical Memory. Current directions in psychological science, 25(2), 135–149.

[6] Munawar, K., Kuhn, S. K., & Haque, S. (2018). Understanding the reminiscence bump: A systematic review. PloS one, 13(12), e0208595.

[7] Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Ageing. (2022). Aging Around the World. Retrieved August 8, 2023 from,knowledge%2C%20wisdom%2C%20and%20respect

[8] Tan, C. (2012). “Our shared values” in Singapore: A Confucian perspective. Educational Theory, 62(4), 449-463.

[9] Michael D. Barnett & Cassidy M. Adams. (2018). Ageism and aging anxiety among young adults: relationships with contact, knowledge, fear of death, and optimism, Educational Gerontology, 44:11, 693-700, DOI: 10.1080/03601277.2018.1537163

[10] CNN Health. (2021). Grief-induced anxiety: Calming the fears that follow loss. Q&A with Claire Bidwell Smith. Retrieved August 8, 2023 from

[11] Psychology Today. (2021). Do You Have “FOGO”? Taming the Fear of Getting Old. Retrieved on August 10, 2023 from

[12] Columbia University Medical Center. (2022). The Benefit of Aging. Retrieved August 10, 2023 from,And%20don%27t%20forget%20gratitude.