Growing old is another phase of our lives that is often perceived negatively and with apprehension. American society values youth and vitality and strength which to the elderly have become diminished and with it the sense of self-esteem and importance (Berger, 2001). Everyone dreads becoming old, especially if it is equated with sickness, memory loss and helplessness. To ease the anxiety of becoming one of the elderly, it is important that one is aware of the possible changes that would happen as you age.
Knowledge of the changes that you will experience as the natural course of ageing will help you better deal with it and probably actively take an active role in growing old gracefully. At present much has been discovered about the developmental challenges of the elderly but this was not the case in the early years of developmental psychology. Developmentally speaking, old age was not given the attention it deserved in the past. Psychologists were more concerned with the development of human beings from birth to adulthood (Shaffer, 1999).
It was assumed by many that old age is a period wherein the physical strength and will decrease, mental functioning will become slower and ultimately will affect one’s psychological well-being. However, it was also evident that the ability at which an individual can age gracefully depends on the quality of his/her younger life. But for those who are past their prime and whose youth have been less than ideal, it is not too late to change how we perceive becoming old.
As we age, it is normal for our body to change and lose its strength and vitality and healthy bodily functioning (Petersen, 1996). This is brought about by the daily wear and tear that our bodies have been subjected to and just like any other antique piece of furniture it becomes frail and needs extra care and attention. For females, menopause can signal old age and for some it is the most difficult stage in ones life. Males usually have to contend with lost vigor and physical strength.
Coupled with this is the onset of several illnesses and physical discomforts like arthritis, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes and the more common failing eyesight, hearing loss and diminished taste buds. Likewise, endurance and physical strength continue to decrease and chores like mowing the lawn, gardening, cleaning the house, going to the grocery and other strenuous activities have to be sacrificed simply because your body cannot take it anymore.
This does not mean that you should altogether stop doing any physical activity, exercise is still important as it keeps your body functioning well, the key is moderation. The elderly also tend to have sensitive digestive systems and some diseases require special diets, thus the elderly need to monitor their food intake and dealing with food restrictions can be frustrating for some. Others experience bowel difficulties, problems with digestion and metabolism disorders. As you age, the worst physical change you could face is the lost of control over your bladder and bowels.
It is almost frightening to think of but this is a reality that many of us experience when we get to a certain age. How we deal with these changes depends on our resiliency and attitude. If we anticipate these changes, then we become more prepared for it and accepting it as a natural course of ageing will help us effectively adjust in this stage. With old age, one’s mental ability also suffers, forgetfulness is common, attention span becomes shorter, concentration is limited and problem solving ability wanes (Berger, 2001).
However, recent research shows that mental functioning is physiologically based on our brain cells and mental activities like reading, writing, solving puzzles and artwork can keep our brain cells healthy and then stave off the deterioration of our mental functioning. Because the elderly often feel tired after doing some activity they do not have the energy to pursue mental activities like reading and crossword puzzles. Moreover, most of the elderly face the television set day in and day out which does not help our brain cells at all.
Mental ability can also be enhanced with social interaction and discourse, which means that the elderly need someone that they can relate with on a regular basis so as to keep their brains from withering. Brain cells can also benefit from vitamins and minerals that would keep the brain healthy however, one should be cautious of taking supplements because it also inadvertently affects the kidney and liver. One of the most common illnesses of the elderly that affects mental functioning is Alzheimer’s disease; it is both a painful and difficult condition that puts a strain in their family and their lives.
There is no way of telling that one will not become afflicted with Alzheimer’s but to make a conscious effort to keep our mental ability working will keep it from deteriorating. Old age can also significantly affect psychological well-being. In this culture being old is frowned upon and is not treated with the respect and deference that other cultures have for their elders (Petersen, 1996). Being old is synonymous with helplessness, dumbness and even craziness for some; the elderly is often emotionally abused or bullied by others through name calling and ignoring their opinions and ideas.
For those who are better off economically can afford to pay someone to take care of them and then spend time by themselves or with a support group. But just the same, they have to deal with diminished self-esteem, self-worth, loneliness and the inability to have control over their lives. The quality of life of the elderly can be improved by adopting a positive attitude about being old, accepting that all people grow old and if one is old, then that means that one is still alive.
The quality of relationships of the elderly could either suffer or become better as one ages, some people find it difficult to relate to the elderly while strained relationships are often resolved when a persons ages due to the realization that family and relationships are more important. In the past, old age have been associated with wisdom as it is something that comes with age and this is what our young people should appreciate and what yourselves should claim to have. Erik Erikson (Murray, 1990) says old age is associated with the crisis of wisdom versus despair.
That is, if one has lived a full life and then gains wisdom in old age, while those who have failed to accomplish something in their life suffer from despair or regretting not being able to do what they wanted to do in their lives. Being old is not such a bad thing, one gets special attention in one’s family, one gets to indulge their grandchildren, one does not have to discipline children, one gets away with mistakes and blunders, one can laugh at one’s self and finally, one can do the things that younger, more rational and self-conscious adults would not dare to do like shimmy while waiting in line.