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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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“I REMEMBER…” AND AGING

The shape of memory changes for many people in later life. If our typical old person has one real complaint about his own mental functioning, it is likely to concern his memory for recent events. A word, a name or a fact, just doesn’t come to mind when he wants it. What happened in the distant past is likely to be clear and precise in his mind. He can accurately recall events that occurred 60 or 70 years ago, but may draw a blank for what happened a week ago last Monday.

The picture is even more complex than this. The research shows that another type of memory also must be distinguished (i.e. recall for immediate events). The old person in good health does not appear to suffer any particular problems in this regard. He can remember what has just happened, can remember very well what happened decades ago, but has difficulty with the time in between long ago and a moment ago.

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Distress and Aging

No single principle of mental health can guarantee that a person will pass through the challenges and perils of a long life without experiencing distress, loss, suffering, and human error that are part of most lives. However, it is within our abilities to reduce the depth and frequency of suffering and to help each other when our own resources are temporarily overrun.

In old age, distress can be more acute since immediate problems bring to mind earlier difficulties. The old person may be haunted by memories of stressful events and relationships as far back as early childhood. Tormented by both past and present, they may feel helpless. At the same time, there may be fewer resources available to cope with problems in the immediate situation, fewer people to share experiences with, less physical and financial control over the environment and so on.

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Life Review And Aging

Life review is an examination of one’s total life experiences as we enter that period we tend to call old age. It’s a time to set what is known as “our house in order.”

The outcome of an older person’s life review is by no means guaranteed. Like all of the other ways of using the past, it can have either favorable or unfavorable consequences. If the elderly person is hard on himself, he views his life as a string of failures and missed opportunities. He may dwell on his shortcomings as a child, a spouse, or a parent and perhaps brand himself guilty of some obscure transgression that has not been forgiven. At the same time he may feel powerless to make amends and face the prospect ahead with trepidation and dread.

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At a Slower Pace and Aging (i.e.: an opportunity to contemplate)

There is another common change in us as we grow older: we slow down. This change is probably most obvious in our physical activity. But it is part of our mental life as well. Psychomotor speed, as psychologists often call it, is required by many activities. This is the pace at which we carry out all steps of an action, from sizing up the situation, figuring out what we want to do about it, and finally doing it.

Activities and tests that place a premium upon speed often show the old person at a marked disadvantage. He does however perform as well as younger people. But does performance in those circumstances reflect intelligence? When activities or mental tests are designed so that speed is not a significant factor, then the difference between old and young becomes much slighter. The old person reveals his ability to learn, think, remember and solve problems when not being rushed and when allowed to proceed at his own pace.

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Communication and the AD Person (AD = Alzheimer's Disease)

In spite of language losses suffered by an individual with Alzheimer’s, many skills that support communication are remarkably preserved and remain for a long time. When working with the AD individual, the caregiver should keep in mind six abilities that are nearly always preserved.

1) The Use of Procedural Memories
Individuals with AD begin to lose memory for words, information and events quite rapidly, but procedural memory, or the knowledge of how to perform familiar tasks remain relatively intact until the later stages of dementia. The research suggests that this is because procedural memory is the most elemental of human memory systems and is the only memory system capable of operating independently. This system can sustain some very complex human activity such as walking, washing hands, or even driving a car. Procedural memory is like a computer program whereas other types of memory are like data stored in the computer. Alzheimer patients begin to lose data rapidly but still function. They may forget where they are going, but they still know how to walk. They may forget what they are saying, but they still know how to talk.

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Taking Leave and Aging

      • The look on the face of the five-year-old as he boards a school bus for the first time and the look of apprehension on the face of his mother.
      • The last lingering touches of two lovers who cannot bear to let each other go.
      • The moment when one must board that jet and fly off to a new life elsewhere.
      • The apprehension that this could be the last time they shall see each other and that chill of final separation.

The following is an excerpt of a discussion I had several years ago with the daughter of a man (her father) who had recently passed away.

“The last time I saw my father I guess I knew it might be the last time. We talked a little about this and that…nothing important. It was as if we both had agreed to keep it that way because we both knew, and we knew that we knew.

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Perspective and Aging

Definition: Perspective “a view of things (as events) in their true relationship or relative importance” (The Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Some years ago I had a conversation with a resident in a facility where I was the head of the Nursing department. She was close to her 100th birthday. I asked her what she made of her life in general. She promptly replied: “Can’t tell yet! I am still making my life!”

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