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Assessing the Situation and Aging

John is an independent, proud-eighty-year-old man who had nursed his late wife through her long bout with advanced Alzheimer’s disease and kept her at home until the very end. When friends and family wondered how he did it, given his limited mobility due to crippling arthritis, he would say, “I would have it no other way.”

Not only did he insist on doing his own shopping and cooking, he also shopped for neighbors in his apartment building, whom he characterized as the “old folks.” But when John had a stroke which paralyzed his left side, there was no way he could return home from the hospital. John and his three children were told by a hospital representative that they had a week to find a skilled nursing facility for him.

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The Well Elderly and Aging

The emergence of a population group identified as the well elderly is the result of social and demographic progress in the industrial world. More elderly people are living longer and poverty, frailty, and dependence are not necessarily the com­mon characteristics attributed to most old people.

The future portends a healthier well elderly population who are better educated and physically as well as emotionally prepared. Society has, at present, begun utilizing their capabilities for the foreseeable future, thus guaranteeing a potentially rich human resource.

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Tactile Stimulation and the AD Patient | (AD = Alzheimer Disease)

The need for tactile stimulation or touch, continues throughout our lives. Older adults may experience less touch because they have fewer contacts in their immediate environment, compared to the younger person.

As the senses of sight and sound decrease, touch becomes an increasingly important means of communicating. Touch then becomes a vital vehicle for expressing emotions and a way to make meaningful contact with others.

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Learning New Things and Aging

Virtually everyone remains capable of learning throughout their lives. There is no known age at which the elderly lose their ability to learn new things although due to illness and other medical issues, many can and do experience increased difficulties in learning.

It may appear as if the elderly have failed to grasp any new ideas. This is not because they have been unable to learn, but because they may choose not to risk making mistakes and looking foolish – a caution which the old share with younger people.

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DEPRESSION: The Signs and Aging

We often mistake an old person’s quiet withdrawal and lack of complaint as philosophic acceptance when, in fact, she is putting her best possible face on a bitterly disappointing, humiliating or frightening situation.

Either assumption, that it is normal to be unhappy or that old people are somehow happy about being unhappy, obstructs our view of the person’s true state of mind. Signs of distress deserve attention in old age as much as at any point in the lifespan.

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Geriatric Nursing and Aging

“Professional education is acquired through the learning experience offered with courses preparing the student for the role of leader and teacher, and that can be implemented at a level of competency.” Eleanor C. Lambertsen, RN, Ed.D

Nurses play a critical role in caring for the sick and frail older adult, and in promoting healthy aging. Yet not only is there a general shortage of nurses in the United States, there are even fewer nurses who have specialized in geriatric skills. Of the 2.5 million registered nurses in the U.S., less than 15,000 are certified in geriatrics. And of the 111,000 advanced practice nurses, only 3,500 are geriatric nurse practitioners and/or clinical specialists.

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Overcoming Difficulties and Aging

We must realize that the comfort and well-being of an afflicted person can be improved even when a progressive disease process does exist. Environments can be adapted to allow for a measure of independence together with safety.

Instead of isolation, the person with a brain disease can be given the opportunity of continued social contact in a warm and friendly setting. I have personally seen women diagnosed with dementia, work confidently and competently in a kitchen provided for their use.

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Age-Grading and Aging

Society has an alternative method of classifying people by age. The distinctions are based on a person’s life situation, especially the place held in society, rather than on number of years since birth. Sociologists and anthropologists sometimes refer to this as an age-grading approach. It has been the most important basis of age distinction in many societies, and continues as a supplementary approach in industrialized nations today.

A simple age-grading approach divides the population into the young, the grown up, and the aged.

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In a World of Their Own and Aging

When a dying person senses that he is being abandoned and that others no longer feel he is worth their time and effort, he is likely to show very understandable mental and emotional reactions. He becomes demanding and agitated or more depressed. He thinks and talks in ways that may come across as peculiar to others.

For whenever patterns of communication deteriorate, it becomes increasingly difficult for an isolated person to speak logically. Unfortunately, reactions of this type often provoke responses that compound misery. Depressed because he feels abandoned, the terminally ill person may stop eating. Sensitive caregivers may recognize the psychosocial dynamics involved and increase their efforts to provide a sense of affection and security. Less sensitive people, however, may immediately resort to forced feeding through intravenous needles or gastrointestinal tubes. Or, they may decide the person is ready to die and let him go.

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Touch Deprivation and Aging

The following is a quote by the researcher, M. Schwab: “These early morning hours are terribly lonely…that’s when I have such a longing for someone who loves me to be there just to touch and hold me…and to talk to.”

Touch is the most important and neglected of our senses. An individual can survive without one or more of the other senses, but one cannot survive and live in any degree of comfort without the physical and emotional sense that touch is capable of offering.

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Therapeutic Touch and Aging

Western clinicians are beginning to embrace Eastern healing modalities more than ever, especially in regard to patients with unrelieved pain. According to Maureen Foye, an RN, employed at the in-patient pain management program at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, “Many people don’t understand the role that Eastern healing can play in the management of pain.” Foye began working with patients in severe pain after being exposed to the principles of therapeutic touch. She has now come full circle by instructing other practitioners in the value of these principles with plans to conduct further research into the clinical effectiveness of energy healing and therapeutic touch associated with the field of pain management.

Many patients with chronic pain tend to isolate themselves. A major focus of the program is to therefore, create community among her patients.

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Ageism and Aging

Ageism and Aging are stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. The term was coined in 1971 by Robert Butler to describe discrimination against seniors, and patterned on sexism and racism. Butler defined “ageism” as a combination of three connected elements. They are prejudicial attitudes toward older people, old age, and the aging process. There are also other discriminatory practices against older people, such as institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about older people.

Contrary to common and more obvious forms of stereotyping such as racism and sexism, ageism is more resistant to change. For instance, if a child believes in an ageist idea against the elderly with few people correcting him, then as a result, he will continue to grow into an adult believing in ageist ideas. In other words, ageism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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QUALITY OF LIFE AND AGING

In almost every book or article on aging, one idea continues to be stressed: longevity is desirable if accompanied by a life of high quality. But, I continue to ask, what makes for such a good life? Most of us want love, meaningful work, safety and security, energy and health, and to varying degrees, power, fame, freedom and wealth, and we want to live in a society that supports these goals.

How can we measure quality of life? There is no simple answer. It is an amorphous concept, constantly changing with the historical period and one’s culture, personal background, stage of life, and socioeconomic status. A person’s definition of quality of life is and should be highly individualized and objective.

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“DEMENTIA” As A Strategy And Aging

An old woman has been admitted to an institution with a probable diagnosis of dementia and uncommunicative. She doesn’t speak nor appear to understand. However, it soon becomes clear that she can speak and understand.

Silence is, however, her way of punishing the family whom she regards as insensitive to her needs. “They are all living in my house and they treat me like a poor relation. Boss me around all the time!”

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Sharing The Past And Aging

There can be much satisfaction in sharing with an elderly person his reflections on the past. Directly or indirectly, it is part of our history as well. Apart from the facts we could glean, it deepens our understanding of life’s experiences. Together with the old person, we feel the transformation from child to youth to adult and beyond.

In this way, an old person who opens his mind and feelings to us is a unique text on human development and aging.

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Hardiness/Frailty and Aging

The elderly are often less vulnerable than they appear. They may attribute their health to exercise, religion and a positive attitude. It is well known that genetics, good health practices and a certain degree of luck are involved. The very process of enduring beyond the average life span indicates personal survival capacities beyond those of the ordinary person.

In our era, however, this is complicated by the fact that many would have died of various disorders, having now been kept alive through sophisticated medical technology. Therefore, among the oldest-old we find two distinct groups: those hardy souls genetically meant to endure for a century, and the extreme frail who walk a “tightrope” between survival and death.

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Mobility/Falls and Aging

A resident in a facility where I was the Director of Nursing, claimed the reason he and his wife got married while in their late eighties, was the following,” It was a marriage of convenience. Rather than using a cane or a walker, we can lean on each other.”

Mobility is the capacity one has for movement. In infancy, it is a major mode of learning and interacting with the environment. Throughout life, it remains a significant means of contact, sensation, exploration, pleasure, and control. In old age one moves more slowly and purposefully, sometimes with more caution.

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Personality and Aging

The old person is largely responsible for his own place in society. What is experienced as rejection or exclusion by one person may be a welcome opportunity to shed responsibility by another. One individual’s lifestyle may keep him closely linked with society, while that of another individual may encourage an earlier withdrawal.

The reality of individual differences is well illustrated in several studies in the field of aging. As an example, researchers in their studies among men, have identified five types of personality.

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The Future and Aging

Today, in general, Americans are living longer than their predecessors. Yet those who make policy have been slow to recognize the implications of this unprecedented increase in longevity. As a result, social institutions (i.e.: educational organizations, healthcare providers and work settings) have not fully adapted to the challenges and opportunities posed by America’s aging population.

It has been projected by 2030, the U.S. will experience accelerated growth in its aging population. It has also been projected that by 2050, the number of U.S. citizens 65 and older, will reach 88.5 million. That’s more than double the 40 plus million that was originally reported in a federal document on “aging in society.”

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Replaying and Aging

Some elderly people contribute to their own isolation by boring people with tales that are more than twice told. This is one of the most common characteristics complained of by people who say they do not like to be with the aged, although old people by no means have the patent on repetitious speech.

But there is more purpose to this replaying of the past than might fall upon the bored ear. Notice that the scenes retold are very selective. Often these prove to have an integrating function for the individual. They serve to give the person something to organize himself around.  Furthermore, replaying can be the effect as well as the cause of social isolation in a deprived, alien, unwelcoming environment. The old person may have little other choice to call upon his own memory repertoire if he has to have any company at all. This is akin to the effect that sensory deprivation has on a person of any age; the mind takes over and furnishes the stimulation which is absent in the environment.

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