Aging is a complex process marked with distinct physical, emotional and social changes in the individual. The older individual must revise his lifestyle to accommodate the changes. The elderly person is often exposed to ageism and stereotypes and is expected to be dependent and helpless. Views on death differ at different developmental stages, as do cultural attitudes towards dying. Late adulthood is associated with a review of the individual’s life, evaluation and acceptance. This may result either in a feeling of integrity over accomplishments or despair over lack thereof.
Aging can be defined as the process of maturing or growing old over a period of time. In humans, this process involves changes physically, socially and psychologically. Generally, an elderly person may be said to be above the age of 60. The World Health Organization reports that the elderly population is rising faster than other age groups because of decreasing fertility and higher life expectancies (Lowis et al., 2009). This is due to success of policies in public health and socioeconomic development. It is therefore important to understand late adulthood in the developmental process.
Promoting Health and Wellness in Late Adulthood
Health among the elderly is a complex process. This is because the incidence of illness or death is inevitable which not the case for other age groups. The changes which occur physically, socially and psychologically may be difficult to assess as it may not be clear whether they are caused by disease or are part of the ageing process. The elderly also are less independent and are likely to be institutionalized which may create more health issues. The elderly also experience a loss or decline in their intellectual capacity. This may be normal due to the aging process but is often caused by disease and leads to dementia (Rabbit, 2011).
Health and wellness in this group is a factor of both genetics and lifestyle factors. While genetics may be responsible for some problems related to aging, lifestyle has a more profound impact on the quality of life experienced by the senior citizen. These factors include: exercise; nutrition; not smoking; limiting alcohol consumption; stress reduction; challenging the mind; and cultivating meaningful relationships. Exercise improves respiratory and cardiovascular health while increasing bone mass, aiding muscular functions, digestion and bowel movements. It is also necessary that their eating plans be highly nutritious and be backed up with supplements to account for their reduced nutritional uptake.
Ageism and Stereotypes
Ageism is the discrimination or prejudice which is done on account of one’s age. While it may be used against all age groups, it targets mainly older people and is characterized by ‘stereotyping’ (Osborne, 2009). This can be demonstrated using various examples. When a younger person is unable to remember a name, it is said that he has a faulty memory. An older person will be viewed as senile for the same lapse in memory. If the elderly person complains about an incident in life, they are considered ‘difficult’. A similar action by a younger person will be viewed as a ‘critical attitude’. The elderly are also stereotyped at work and are expected to be more rigid and less productive than younger workers. They are also viewed as uncomfortable with the latest technological developments and generally resistant to change. In the contrary, studies have shown that there lacks correlation between job performance and age (Aldwin et al., 2007).
These stereotypes put intense pressure on the elderly individual to conform to the expectations of the society. The society expects little from older citizens, and may in fact encourage them to become helpless and dependent. This causes the many positive contributions by the elderly to the society to be overlooked.
Views of Death and Dying at Different Developmental Stages
From infancy to the age of two years, the children lack the cognitive ability to understand the concept of death. They are, however, acutely aware of separation and may react by constant crying, protests and irritability. In early childhood, children may view death as reversible, temporary and in some cases shoulder responsibility for the death. They may relate any negative feelings they had towards the deceased as a cause for their death and often express their feelings of grief through games where they may re-enact the occurrence. The preadolescent may understand the concept of death and its causes but may have difficulty in understanding the emotions surrounding the event (Osborne, 2009).
Adolescents understand death like adults and cope with it in a similar manner. They perceive death as a means which destroys goals and ambitions. They then begin to question what life means when they understand the nature and implications of death. Young and middle adulthood is a period characterized by revived appreciation of life. The adult understands himself and woks out how to live the rest of his life. Late adulthood is associated with a review of the individual’s life, evaluation and acceptance. This may result either in a feeling of integrity over accomplishments or despair over lack thereof. The elderly prepare for their own death or that of a partner. Older people may be afraid of death and struggle to validate their lives. They question whether their purpose in life was achieved (Osborne, 2009).
Cultural Attitudes towards Death and Dying
There various ways in which different cultures view death. The Jewish culture views death as inevitable and duly respects it. They treat the dead with the dignity they deserved in their lifetime. The Jewish culture outlines a process which is structured and designed to handle grief to ensure that everyone gets their last respects. The Buddhist faith does not fear death. The faith teaches that one’s ‘karma’ determines his future life. They demonstrate respect for the dead but do not have a structured process to handle grief (Birren and Schaie, 2001). Buddhists are naturally minimalist and this is seen in how they observe death. Christians view death as a passage to eternal life. This life may be spent in heaven or earth depending on whether one spent life in accordance with the precepts of Jesus Christ. In ancient Egypt, there were tribes which sacrificed children and spouses along with the deceased to ensure they were not separated in the next life (Aldwin et al., 2007).
Late adulthood is the final stage inhuman development and is a complex. It is marked by physical, emotional and social changes in the individual. Views on death differ at different developmental stages, as do cultural attitudes towards dying. The older adult is also involved in a validation process of his life, involving an evaluation, analysis and final acceptance of the outcome of his life.
Aldwin C., Park C., and Avron S. (2007). Handbook of Health Psychology and Aging. New York: Guilford Press.
Birren E. & Schaie K. (2001). Handbook of the Psychology of Aging. London; Academic Press
Lowis, M., Edwards, A., & Burton, M. (2009). Coping With Retirement: Well-Being, Health, and Religion. The Journal of Psychology, 143(4), 427-48
Osborne, J.. (2009). Commentary on Retirement, Identity, and Erikson’s Developmental Stage Model. Canadian Journal on Aging, 28(4), 295-301.
Rabbit P. (2011). Psychology of Ageing. Available at www.psypress.com.