Healthy Old Age

Aging is an existential phenomenon, which is a natural part of development of universal significance (Erickson, 1963 & Havighurst, 1959, in Ponzo, 1992). It is a biological, psychological, and sociological phenomenon. People have specific tasks to accomplish, as they grow older. For example, Erickson views middle age and late adulthood as a time when the individual must develop a sense of generativity and ego integrity or become stagnant and despairing.

Jung (1969) believes spirituality is a domain that those over 40 are uniquely qualified to explore. Despite an increased understanding of aging and an ever-growing number of older adults, the elderly have to deal with age-based expectations and prejudices. As with other minority groups, elderly individuals are subject to negative stereotypes and discrimination. For instance, “older people often are tagged with uncomplimentary labels such as senile, absentminded, and helpless” (McCracken, Hayes, & Dell, 1997, in Gladding, 2000).

This negative attitudes and stereotypes, which are known as ageism, prevent intimate encounters with people in different age groups and sometimes lead to outright discrimination (Butler & Lewis, 1973; Bulter et al. , 1998). In a review of attitudes towards older individuals, Atkinson and Hackett (1998) found that elderly persons are considered to be rigid, and not adaptable in their thought processes; thought to be in poor health and not very intelligent or alert; inappropriate to have sexual interest or activity.

Negative attitude toward elderly persons were present in college students, and among medical staff who feel uncomfortable around elderly patients. Jokes about old age abound and are primarily negative in nature. These negative stereotypes lead to elderly peoples being viewed as less valued members of society. Older women are even more likely to be viewed negatively by society as a whole. Elderly individuals may come to accept these views and suffer a loss of self-esteem (Sue & Sue, 1999).

Unfortunately, individuals who are growing old often deny and dread the process, a phenomenon that Friedan (1993, in Belsky, 1999) calls “the age mystique. ” Even counselors are not immune to ageist attitudes (Belsky, 1999). Old age can be emotionally healthy and a satisfying time of life with a minimum of physical and mental impairment. Butler et al. (1998) observed that besides the general lack of interest in older persons, science and medicine have been more concerned with treating “what went wrong” than with clarifying the complex, interwoven elements necessary to produce and support health.

Medicine and the behavioral sciences have mirrored societal attitudes by presenting old age as a grim litany of physical and emotional illness. Until 1960, most of the medical, psychological, psychiatric, and social work literature on the aged was based on experience with the sick and the institutionalized, even though only 5% of the older people were confined to institutions. Decline of the individual was the key concept. Fortunately, research studies that have concentrated on the healthy aged give indications of positive potential for the entire age group.

What is healthy old age? In 1994, the World Health Organization first defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. ” This represents an ideal with many possible interpretations. But the broad elements of health -physical, emotional, and social- is the framework in which one can begin to analyze what is going on well in addition to what is going wrong. The attempt must be made to locate those conditions that enable humans to thrive, not merely survive.

Old age is a unique life stage and it involves continuous growth. One broad and important approach to working successfully with the aged is to treat them as adults (Cox & Waller, 1991). When they are treated with respect and …

Health is described as physical and mental well-being and freedom from disease, pain or defect. However, such descriptions only superficially define the actual meaning of health. There may be many occasions when individuals are not necessarily ill or in pain …

Turning away now from health concepts derived from particular social groups, we focus our attention on D’Houtard and Field’s (1984) study who examined the relationship between health concepts and social class on a sample of 4000 respondents from Lorraine in …

Most of the studies reported so far have looked at perceptions of health among children without significant health problems or special needs. Others, however, have examined the reality of health for young people with more specific concerns. Rushforth (1999), reviewed …

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