Current Trends and Issues that Affect Today’s Aged Population
In a world where everything seems to be achieved by the youthful and vigorous, aging has become a challenge. Late adulthood, old age, and eventually death are inevitable for everyone, yet the subject, irrespective of its inescapability, can be found difficult to discuss or understand. This discussion makes an attempt to view these three life events or milestones, to show how a person’s circumstances and attitudes can affect the ways in which the family and society handle them.
In her book Development Through the Lifespan, Laura E. Berk demonstrates through case histories, interviews, and anecdotes that although growing old occurs everywhere and to everyone, it is not handled in the same way. There are marked cultural, societal, and personal differences in the ways different adults, genders, and families treat aging. The biological and psychological changes that accompany the onset of late adulthood, which include forgetfulness, fatigue, detachment, helplessness, the pain and discomfort of rheumatism, and cardiac and respiratory conditions, all contribute to issues that confront people (Berk 608). Acceptance of change, especially when it seems sudden and irrefutable, is seen to be extremely difficult by some, and yet others handle the same conditions with agreeableness and resistance. The reasons for this difference in the ability for some to accept changes in themselves or their relatives better than others are not always clear (610).
One negative life change in aging women is a loss of self-esteem when they are no longer able to care for loved ones because of failing health. When men retire, they feel a sense of loss of identity if they associate the character with occupation (Berk 611). Psychological well-being in both men and women can be restored through social support. Society provides this through a number of organizations, associations, religious groups, and cultural establishments. It is found, however, that for social support to provide proper care for elders, it needs to be accompanied by a sense of control. Sometimes, Berk asserts, a trade-off can be made between the life aspects older people can control and those they cannot in order to feel in charge of their own lives. For example, stamina can be reserved for enjoyable occupations such as dancing or bowling by leaving shopping and housework to helpers and carers.
The sense of mortality is not as remote in old age as before, and as a person’s friends begin to pass away, approaching death can depress or alarm some elderly people. Although it is easy to agree with Berk when she states that death is necessary for the life of any species to ensure its survival, humans do not always find it easy to accept. Death, dying, and bereavement are strong life milestones sustained by cultural attitudes, outlooks, and customs. Modern society seems to be more distanced from the reality of death than earlier generations, simply because people no longer die at home as often as they used to (Berk 642). In addition, when people are depressed or in pain, they are more likely to suffer from death anxiety, which can be accompanied by a reluctance to discuss it with others, which could bring about the relief of the condition.
When a loved one passes away, older people are likely to be worse affected than others, because the event emphasizes their mortality and transience. Their grief is made more personal by becoming a presage of what is inevitable. In some cultures and religions, what Berk defines as ‘symbolic immortality,’ which comes from belief in an everlasting soul, helps older people to regard life as worthwhile and enjoy their ability to pass on wisdom and skills to the next generation, even if their life is necessarily finite. This sense of worth avoids anxiety about death becoming extreme or debilitating (643).
Coping with aging and approaching death, dying, and bereavement are not easy for anyone, but for the elderly, this can seem a defeating part of life. To keep this from becoming problematic or pathological, a feeling of self and societal-worth must be emphasized in the lives of all elderly people. In this way, they can approach the twilight of their lives with optimism, grace, and dignity.